A children’s hostel owned by the Catholic Church has been closed down by the government in the central  Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. A priest told Matters India that it was because the authorities are “under mounting pressure from right-wing Hindu groups”.

The hostel, in the western district of Guna, allowed children from poor families to be boarders while they studied at nearby schools. It was closed down on 12 September after being open for two decades. State authorities cited a discrepancy in the land-ownership documents.

Father Kidangan, Priest-in-Charge of the local diocese, said the government should have allowed him to rectify “a minor issue that was blown out of all proportion” when the Church took over the property. The priest has taken the case to the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

A local villager who wanted to remain anonymous told Matters India that “the land document is not the issue at all. Most of the villagers live there and they don’t have valid land documents”.

He added that accusations that the Church forcibly converted people to Christianity were not true. “The village has only three Catholic families and if the allegations were true, there should have been so many more Catholics by now,” he said.

The Catholic Church recently complained about harassment by hard-line Hindu groups in Madhya Pradesh over an alleged sex offence by the principal of Jyoti Senior Secondary School in Rewa, 550km east of Guna. Archbishop Leo Cornelio said the case was “baseless” and “an attempt to tarnish the image of the Church“.

Madhya Pradesh is one of five BJP-governed Indian states  to have passed so-called “anti-conversion laws”, which, though they are ostensibly aimed at preventing religious conversions by force, are often used to settle personal scores, with members of religious minorities frequently targeted. In the eastern state of Jharkhand, the most recent state to pass what are officially known as Freedom of Religion Bills, offenders could face a four-year prison term and a 100,000 rupee (US$1,600) fine.