For 17-year-old Akshay Toppo, who aspires to be a civil engineer, the Class 12 mathematics paper on Monday was one of his most crucial. As he was writing the exam at St Joseph School in Ganj Basoda tehsil of Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha district, some men of the Bajrang Dal and VHP forced their way in, accusing the school of carrying out conversions.
Police had probed the allegations of conversion and found them to be baseless.
Akshay says the teachers shut the classroom, but they couldn’t block the noise. A few minutes later, as the sloganeering continued, the teachers began shifting the students to another classroom on the first floor of the building.
Siddhi Sharma, who was also giving the exam, says: “We could not concentrate at all. Fear gripped us as we did not know what was happening outside.”
Akshay fears he messed up his math paper, and says he wasn’t able to prepare properly for the Physical Education exam on Tuesday. He says his parents initially did not want to send him to the school Tuesday, but did because of the Class 12 exam. “They asked me to quickly enter the school building and keep inside, without wandering out for any reason. But we are all just very scared.”
On Tuesday, the school remained shut except for students who had their examinations scheduled, said Principal Anthony Tynumkal.
Around 300 people had gathered outside St Joseph High School to protest on Monday. The mob soon turned violent and forced its way into the premises and damaged property. Tynumkal told The Indian Express the mob was armed with iron rods and stones.
Tynumkal said police had played down their request for protection. “They assured us that the mob would only shout a few slogans and disperse peacefully, but that they would send a few men… Police only came after the goons had already left.”
The Sub-Divisional Police Officer for Ganj Basoda tehsil, Bharat Bhushan, said they took “prompt action” and provided the school security. He added: “It was going to be a peaceful protest… A few miscreants used the opportunity and hurled stones, damaging some glass windows.”
Akshay says that it was around 11.30 am that they “heard loud noises of men shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram”. “It was so loud, we could hear them banging the gate and then suddenly stones came flying inside the classroom.”
Police have detained four people, on charges of rioting and mischief, and said they are going through CCTV footage to zero in on the others.
Bhushan said the Vidisha SP and District Magistrate have visited the school to take stock of the situation.
Set up 11 years ago, St Joseph School is run by the Bhopal-based Malabar Missionary Society. The school has about 1,500 students, a majority of them non-Christian.
VHP leader Neelesh Aggarwal, who led the protest at the school, claimed that a media report had said that eight Hindu girls had been converted at the school on October 31.
Tynumkal denied this, saying the school had only organised holy communion for its Christian students on October 31. “A video of that event was circulated on YouTube, falsely implying that students were being converted. None of the students participating in the event even study at the school,” he said.
Bhushan said they had probed the conversion complaint and found it to be baseless and the video to be false.
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