Father Bartholomis Minj, a Catholic priest who tried to help two nuns illegally detained in last month’s Mau incident reported from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is planning to approach the high court to save himself from likely arrest.
“I am planning to move the state’s top court to discharge me from the case I was not involved in any way”, Norbertine Father Bartholomis Minj said, referring to the alleged violation of the anti-conversion law in Mau for which police took several Christians into custody following a complaint by a pro-Hindu group on October 10.
Sisters Gracy Monteiro and Roshni Minj of the Ursuline Franciscan congregation were at the local bus stop when they were accosted by Hindu activists and forcibly taken to the police station on suspicion they were part of a Protestant group suspected to be involved in religious conversion.
Father Minj rushed to the police station after learning about the nuns’ illegal detention. “When asked, I told the officers that I was principal of St. Joseph School and left the place after meeting the nuns,” he told UCA News on November 11.
The priest later learned that the police had registered a case against a school principal without naming him. To his shock, a couple of days ago an officer came to his office and interrogated him for over an hour, prompting him to file for anticipatory bail before the district court.
The nuns were released the same day after the detained Protestants told police they were not part of their group.
“It is nothing but a clear case of harassment,” said Father Anand Mathew, a priest of the Indian Missionary Society based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
“Hindu mobs storming churches and prayer halls, creating a ruckus and then summoning police alleging illegal religious conversions has become a general trend in India’s most populous state.”
Their main targets were mostly small prayer halls run by the Pentecostals and other such groups, but emboldened mobs may soon start eying Catholics and other mainline churches, Father Mathew added.
He appealed to mainline churches to understand that their persecutors were merely “testing the waters” and may even come for their schools, hospitals and other service institutions even though they may not pose any threat to the fundamentalists.
Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, has seen a rise in violence against religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, in recent years.
This year alone, Christians have been the targets of more than 300 incidents of violent attacks across the country, according to a fact-finding report released on October 21 in New Delhi.
The report jointly compiled by civil rights groups also shed light on the targeted persecution of Christians in 21 of 28 Indian states under the guise of preventing fraudulent and forced religious conversions.
Indian Christians seek Narendra Modi’s intervention
Last month, a Catholic Church leader sought the intervention of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain violence against minorities, especially Christians, amid reports of rising persecution.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, based in the capital of central India’s Madhya Pradesh state, wrote a letter to Modi asking him “to take effective steps to contain rising violence against Christians.”
Christians make up 2.3 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population, who are mostly Hindus.
Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supports the hardline idea of making India a nation of Hindu dominance, which Christian leaders say results in Hindu activists violently opposing religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.
The archbishop’s October 26 letter came five days after civil rights groups released a fact-finding report on persecution that documented rising violence against Christians, especially from right-wing Hindu groups.
Christians faced persecution in 21 of 28 Indian states, most of them ruled by Modi’s BJP party, the report said.
“Very recently certain individuals and groups have stepped up a hate campaign against minority groups, especially Christians,” said Archbishop Cornelio in his two-page letter.
The prelate also cited the harassment of two Catholic nuns in the Mau district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on October 10.
A Hindu mob forcefully took Ursuline Franciscan Congregation Sisters Gracy Monteiro and Roshi Minj from a Mau bus stand to the nearest police station accusing them of illegal religious conversion.
They were kept in the police station for over six hours without any formal complaint following pressure from Hindu activists before being released in the evening.
Archbishop Cornelio also cited the hate speech case of BJP legislator Rameshwar Sharma, who appealed to Hindus in a speech to “stay away” from Christians and Muslims, stressing that contact would destroy Hindus.
Such public discourse from elected representatives seemed to be a “deliberate attempt to whip up communal hatred against minority communities,” said the prelate, describing it as “a matter of great concern for everyone.”
Rising religious fundamentalism and hatred, the prelate said, is “a threat to the growth of the nation” as he insisted on the need for working together to promote unity and harmony for the good of the nation.
“Archbishop Cornelio wants the office of the prime minister to address the burning issue of violence against Christians in the country,” Father Maria Stephen, public relations officer of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, told UCA News on October 26.
“Now even our prayer meetings are termed as religious conversion ceremonies and false cases are registered against the faithful.
“It is not happening only in BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh but also in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh and other states. Christians face the same challenges and the intervention of the PM is important to get us justice.”
The Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) and United Against Hate and United Christian Forum (UCF) released a joint report of their survey on Christian persecution in India on October 21. It recorded details of 305 attacks on Christians spread over 21 of India’s 28 states.
BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 66 incidents followed by Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh (47), tribal people’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-ruled Jharkhand (30) and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh (26), according to data collected since January.
Karnataka, another BJP-ruled state in the south, also witnessed a spurt in violence against Christians with 32 incidents.
The findings also noted that less than 10 percent of such violence against Christians was recorded by the police.
Church leaders accuse the police of being hand in glove with the perpetrators of anti-Christian violence.
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