As the countdown to Christmas is underway, the last few days have seen some stray attacks against the festival from fringe right wing outfits in three north Indian states. The incidents have unnerved the minority community, prompting Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex decision making body of the Catholic Church in the country, to comment that the community was “losing confidence in the government”.
Here is a look at recent incidents of attacks on Christians and Christmas:
Carols and conversion allegations near Satna, Madhya Pradesh: More than 30 priests and seminarians singing carols at a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh were detained by the MP police on December 14, 2017, after activists from Bajrang Dal lodged a complaint against them for forcible conversion. The accused belonging to the St Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna had been conducting a carol singing programme, which, according to the The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, has been a routine practice during Christmas season for the past three decades. Six of the accused were booked under Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act. Further, eight priests who went to the civil lines police station to inquire about the detained priests, were also held and their car set afire outside the police station. The CBCI has alleged that the police did not play a fair role in the case.
The complaint against the detainees came from a 21-year-old Dharmendra Dohar, a resident of Bhumkahar village, who alleged that he had been offered a sum of Rs 5000 for converting to Christianity. Madhya Pradesh has strict anti-conversion laws and is one of five Indian states where missionaries need permission to try and convert individuals.
Christmas programme disrupted in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan: Members of fringe groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad reportedly disrupted a Christmas event on the night of December 20 at a community center in Pratapgarh district and manhandled a few organisers and attendees. They were accompanied by the police who claimed to have received a tip off about forced conversions at the event. “The programme was organised without permission, and the police had got information that religious conversions were being conducted,” said SP Shivraj Meena, “A team of officials went there and found the conversion allegations were false”. “No one has been arrested, and no case has been registered,” Additional SP Ratan Lal Bhargava told Indian Express.
According to Bhargava, the local residents and Hindu outfits objected to the event. Laxman Meena, secretary of Masih Shakti Samiti, which had organised the programme, claimed to have had a go-ahead from the police and the district magistrate for the event.
School celebrations threatened in Aligarh: The Hindu Jagran Manch issued a circular in Aligarh on December 17 threatening the management of all Aligarh schools against celebrating Christmas saying, if they did so, it would be “at their own risk”. Demanding that no donations be collected from Hindu students and that the event be non-compulsory in attendance, the HJM alleged that schools promoted Christianity in this way. It has reportedly asked its district units to protest outside schools if their warnings were not heeded. In response to the threat, Aligarh Senior Superintendent of police R K Pandey has promised to provide police protection to all schools and colleges to ensure safety during celebrations.