“You are from Kerala. Everyone is a Hindu here. Why do you come to preach and convert only Hindus? Why don’t you go to Kashmir to convert Muslims to Christianity?’’ a uniformed policeman allegedly asked priests and seminarians who were detained at Civil Lines police station in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, late on Thursday for alleged conversion by force.
“He was echoing right-wing Hindu activists who outnumbered the police,’’ Paul Varghese, a rector at the seminary in Satna, told The Sunday Express, describing the atmosphere in the police station where priests and seminarians brought from Bhumkahar village were kept in a room. They went to the village to sing carols and perform a play about saving the girl child. Accusing them of forcible conversions, some villagers and Hindutva activists asked them to stop the programme and called the police, who took more than 30 seminarians and priests to the police station.
Varghese, 39, alleged that the right-wing activists abused them in front of police personnel. Except priests, who were let go on Friday afternoon, the seminarians were allowed to go after midnight, he said.
Martin P Davis, 45, said he and two other priests were on way to the police station to enquire about the detainees when they saw a car burning outside the station. Davis alleged that he was surrounded by about 20 activists after he got off the vehicle. “They pulled my clothes, punched and pushed me several times. I was about to collapse when a policeman rescued me,’’ he said. He was taken to a room near the police station where wireless sets are kept and asked to hide. Davis said he hid under a table and could access medical treatment for injuries only around 2.30 am.
Head constable Rakesh Keavat said Vikas Shukla, 18, was arrested on Saturday for allegedly torching the car belonging to the Christian group. A case under IPC Section 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage) has been registered. Shukla was released on bail within hours of arrest.
Satna-based Bajrang Dal leader Rajbahadur Mishra confirmed that Shukla is an activist, but claimed he was not involved in the incident. On Friday, he claimed, Christians torched the car to defame the Bajrang Dal. On Saturday, he claimed the police arrested Shukla under pressure from Christian organisations.
M George and five unknown persons were booked under different Sections of IPC and Freedom of Religion Act on complaint from one Dharmendra Dohar, who claimed the missionaries had been visiting the village for the last two years, and had allegedly offered him Rs 5,000, a cross and a Bible, and made him a take a dip in a local pond. Head constable Tamendra Singh said no other person involved in the alleged conversion has been identified yet.
On an application seeking security from the minority community, two armed policemen were deployed outside the seminary in Barakala on Saturday.