Catholic girls in Kerala, in a 2017 photo (World Watch Monitor)

A Catholic school in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has received threats from Hindu nationalists, who claim children at the school were punished for singing patriotic songs – the third school to come under pressure this month.

The nationalists claimed around 30 students at the St. Joseph Convent School in Namli, Ratlam district, had been punished for chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” (hailing India as the “motherland”) following the playing of the national anthem during morning assembly on 12 January.

The school’s management denied the students were punished for that, calling the allegation “totally baseless and false”. Father Maria Stephen, public relations officer for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, told Matters India some students had been “corrected”, but denied it was because they had chanted patriotic slogans.

Bajrang Dal, the Hindu nationalist youth organisation which filed the complaint about the school’s “anti-nationalistic act”, announced a general strike on Monday (15 January), with markets in Namli town remaining closed.

Following the threats, the teachers at the school have requested police protection. Meanwhile right-wing organisations have called for further protests in a push for “de-recognition” of the school.

A police spokesperson said initial investigations suggested the school was not at fault.

Other attacks

At another school in the same district, national broadcaster NDTV reported yesterday (16 January) that a group of youths, claiming to be members of a Hindu nationalist group, entered St. Paul’s Convent school in Jaora, destroying chairs and the sound system.

In a separate incident, seven people were arrested for threatening St. Mary’s Post Graduate College in central Madhya Pradesh. This followed a previous attack on the college earlier this month, when a large group of Hindu nationalists clashed with police after they had tried to force the school to carry out a Hindu ritual.

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.

‘Saffronising’ education

Catholic school teachers warned in November against “subtle attempts” by the government to “saffronise”, or “make more Hindu”, the 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.

Previously, 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 were 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 Narendra Modi’s BJP came to power in May 2014. Since then, Christians and members of other religious minorities have complained of worsening conditions.