Indian school children are taking a 'selfie'. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Indian schoolchildren taking a ‘selfie’. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A large group of Hindu nationalists clashed with police on 4 January outside a Catholic college in Vidisha, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, after they tried to force the school to carry out a Hindu religious ritual.

More than 900 members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a nationalist Hindu student organisation, descended on St. Mary’s Post Graduate College, where they were met by hundreds of police, reports Agenzia Fides.

The attack followed an earlier confrontation on 30 December when members of the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, entered the college to demand that a Hindu ritual be performed in which India as ‘Mother Goddess’ is worshipped.

When the school management refused, “they became furious and threatened that they would complete the ritual even by force… We feel emotionally harassed – the students fear for their safety,” school director Fr. Shaju Devassy told AsiaNews.

Bishop Anthony Chirayath of the Diocese of Sagar, which oversees the college, told the Catholic news site Crux he felt “great anxiety” because of the threats to Catholic educational institutions: “We do not even conduct Mass or any Christian prayers in our college and we will not allow any puja [Hindu ritual] to take place,” he said.

Catholic school teachers warned in November against “subtle attempts” by the government to inject Hindu influences in their education system. In their New Year’s message, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India called for “this false nationalism” to stop.

“This type of terrorism is unacceptable. That mobs of these type are being emboldened … is worrying and disturbing,” the bishops said.

Worsening conditions

They expressed concern about a number of recent incidents in Madhya Pradesh, which has some of the country’s strictest “anti-conversion laws”. A December incident made headlines when a team of carol singers were assaulted and then detained by police on charges of attempting to forcibly convert Hindus.

In September, World Watch Monitor reported that Madhya Pradesh Education Minister Kunwar Vijay Shah had ordered pupils at state schools in the Satna district to replace “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” with the phrase “Jai Hind” (Hail, India) when their names are called out to mark their attendance. The same month, a Catholic children’s hostel in the western district of Guna was closed down by the provincial government, reportedly “under mounting pressure from right-wing Hindu groups”.

India has had a Hindu-nationalist government in place since Modi came to power in May 2014. Since then, Christians and members of other religious minorities have complained of worsening conditions.