A group of priests and seminarians, reportedly singing Christmas carols in Satna town of Madhya Pradesh, was detained by police late Thursday after a right-wing group accused them of forced conversion.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) said 30 seminarians and two priests from St Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna were detained when they were conducting a routine carol singing program. Eight priests, who went to the civil lines police station to inquire about the detained priests, were also held. A vehicle belonging to them was also set on fire outside the police station.
Officials at the police station said the detention followed a complaint lodged by Dharmendra Dohar, a resident of Bhumkahar village. The 21-year-old had alleged that he was being forcibly converted to Christianity, police station in-charge Mohini Sharma told The Indian Express.
The Civil Lines Police have booked the six accused under Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act. Police Station in-charge Mohini Sharma said M George, 60, was arrested. She claimed the police had brought the priests and seminarians to the police station late on Thursday because the atmosphere was tense. She said the priests and seminarians did not have permission to hold any programme.
A case under Section 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance) has also been registered in connection with the torching of the vehicle. Sharma said the accused were not booked under the anti-conversion law yet because the probe into the allegations by the Bajrang Dal was still on. She said it was not clear how the car caught fire. No one has been arrested so far, said police.
Secretary General of CBCI, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, said the violence against the priests and seminarians was unprovoked and the charge of conversion was frivolous. He alleged that police stood by helplessly as priests and seminarians were assaulted.
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