Extremist Hindus break into India Catholic schools, demand closure

(Photo: REUTERS / Stringer)India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) speaks with cardinal George Alencherry at an event organized by the Christian community to celebrate the beatification of two Indians by Pope Francis late last year, in New Delhi February 17, 2015. Modi vowed on Tuesday to protect all religious groups, an apparent response to a series of attacks on Christian institutions in New Delhi fuelling concerns that minorities are being targeted by Hindu zealots

Hindu extremists have burst into two Catholic schools in eastern India, scrawled wall slogans, damaged property and demanded their closure.

Those attacked said the mob seemed to ignore Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent call for religious tolerance.

Police in Hazaribagh City have arrested 16 people in connection with the attacks, described by Christian leaders as proof that Hindu extremists are striving to rid Jharkhand state of missionary-run schools.

Hazaribagh police deputy superintendent Arvind Kumar Singh identified suspects as members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The young men broke open the gate and jumped off the boundary wall to get inside one school. Police arrived on time and there was not much damage," Singh said in an interview with ucanews.com.


The students stormed the Holy Cross School and St. Xavier School during the attacks, which took place one after the other.

At Holy Cross, the protesters breached the perimeter wall of the school then marched into the office of school principal, Sister Clerita de Mello.

De Mello recalled in an interview with ucanews.com that the mob threw chairs in her office as they shouted  their demand to shut the school down.

Some of the protestors bore ABVP flags while others shouted slogans against Christians and missionaries.

Afterwards, the protesters marched to the nearby St. Xavier's School.

Police cut them off when they reached the school's gates, the school principal Father PJ James recounted.

Police brought five members of the group to the principal for a dialogue, James recalled. The members however appeared to have unreasonable demands, he continued.

"I'm not sure what they were opposing or protesting. They wanted me to close down the school, saying that we have commercialized education. It was no point in reasoning with them," James said, while noting that a Muslim-run school had also been harassed recently.

He fears "a pattern is emerging ... and that shows they are against minority-run institutions."

A BJP official dismissed the notion the attack was based on religion, insisting that the students had merely tried to raise the debate on access to education for the poor and the marginalized.

BJP lawmaker Ramesh Bais said, "Reports we have received said a group of students were angry as they wanted the specific institute to ensure admission for socially and economically backward students. The manner of protest was in violation of the law, so police have acted."

He shrugged off the connection of the ABVP to the BJP, saying the arrests showed India's ruling party is not against minority-run institutions.

"Jharkhand police have arrested those involved," he said. "There's a BJP government there, so it makes it clear that we have no intention to target Catholic schools."

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