Hindu mob attacks Catholic NGO staff, accuses them of indulging in religious conversion

Travelling for an educational event, members were physically and verbally abused, abducted; no arrests made yet

attack on christians

A Catholic priest in western India sought police protection for his non-governmental organisation (NGO) after his staff members were attacked on a running train by Hindu nationalists who claimed they were missionaries involved in conversion activities.

A crowd of roughly 15 Hindu youth assaulted seven teachers of a Catholic NGO working in Dhule district in the western state of Maharashtra while traveling by express train. On January 16, the night of the attack, the team was on an education tour when the mob surrounded and attacked them at the Sangli railway station.

GunilalPawara, supervisor of a team of 42 teachers including 14 females who work for the NGO named Shirpur Vishwa Mandal Sevashram, stated that he was yanked from his bunk and hit on the head with a steel object until blood began to pour from a cut. As reported by the UCA News, Pawara further provided that the Hindu mob accused the team of attempting to convert indigenous tribal people, and had repeatedly asked for Father Constancio Rodrigues, the NGO’s director.

On January 20, Father Rodrigues told UCA News that he was supposed to accompany his team but was unable to do so at the last minute. He further asserted that the attackers knew the exact berth numbers of the team members, so it was a well-planned attack, but the mob clearly intended to target him.On January 21, a complaint was sent by the victim group to the Superintendent of Police, Belagavi and the Office of Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

Brief account of the attack

The group were going to Belagavi for an exchange of educational and social work experience there with the village level animators of Jana Jagaran Sanstha, Belagavi. Accordingly, on the morning of 16th January 2023, they started their journey from Shirpur District Dhule, Maharashtra to Belagavi by Goa Express (Nizamuddin Vasco Express) at 11.40 am.

As has been provided in the complaint, the group was sitting in coach number S6. Around 9.30 pm to 10 pm, near the Sangli railway station, some young men suddenly entered their coach, and started beating upthe group members while they were sleeping. They were asking questions such as, “Are you going for conversion?”. They were also repeatedly asking after Father Rodrigues.

As the mob got to know that the group members were a part of the Adivasi community, they started abusing them and uttering slurs. In addition to verbal abuse, the group members were also subjected to physical abuse. The mob used a walking stick, belonging to a disabled teacher Tara Singh ChaitramPawara, and steel kadas (bangles) to hit the group members.

Immediately after reaching Sangali railway station, the mob dragged some of the group members out of the train and took GunilalPawara to the railway police stationed standing at platform of Sangali Railway station. The police asked whether any quarrel had taken place. After getting to know the reason of the quarrel, the police questioned the mobregarding who they were, to which they replied they were locals. Post this, the culprits ran away from the spot.

The group then boarded the train again. On reaching the Belagavi railway station at around 1 am, the catholic group was surrounded by forty young men and was detained by the Belagavi railway police after getting down from the train. The railway police brought the group out of the station to the compound and handed them over to the Belagavi police. The police made all the member sit on the ground and questioned them. The questions ranged from asking where the group was travelling from, the purpose of their travel and the kind of education they were engaged in.

The police then gave protection to the group while they travelled to the premises of the Jan Jagran Training Centre within the St. Paul’s campus at Camp, Belagavi. As the group was travelling, they noticed that one of the teachers, BansilalShikarsingPawara, was missing in the group, and the group members claimed that he had been abducted by the mob that had attacked them. As the member informed the police that were accompany them, a police car went in search of the missing teacher. About half an hour later,Bansilal was dropped by two unknown men on a motor cycle, who then fled from the spot.

The district police inspector, who was accompanying the group, questioned Bansilal about his disappearance. Bansilal then informed that some men had closed his mouth and dragged him to a dark place after taking away his bag and shawl. The mob had then placed a sword on his throat and pointed a knife tohis stomach with the aim of forcing a false narrative out of him that the group members were being brought by force for conversion while the mob recorded the same. Bansilal had refused to give a false statement. He was then driven to a dark place near a bridge, close to the railway station, and threatened to be kill off if he did not comply, but Bansilal did not change his statement. After that, two members from the mob took him on a motor cycle and dropped him near the catholic group and fled away.

Action taken against the attack

As has been provided by Father Rodrigues, complaint against the above-mentioned incident have been sent to the Superintendent of Police, Belagavi and the Office of Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

The complaint can be read here.

To the said complaint, the Chief Minister’s office has sent their acknowledgement to the complaint sent by the group. The reply is provided below.

Father Rodrigues further provided that no arrests have been made yet. On being asked why no member of the attacking mob was arrested when they had approached the railway police at the Sangali Railway station, Father Rodrigues said that the police seemed as if they were siding with the culprits. Referring to the abduction of the member of the group, Father further said that the police took no action there too and it seemed as if they were either involved and knew everything or were protecting the ones who were responsible for the attack. Father had also added that even after returning, the group had to seek police protection at the NGO as they noticed some unidentified people keeping a watch on their activities.

The bogey of conversion and rising attacks on Christians

Christians account for 2.3 percent of India’s population of over 1.3 billion people, the majority of which are Hindus. Pro-Hindu organisations in India have intensified their enmity toward Christians by erroneously characterizing their institutions, such as schools and hospitals, as a front for religious conversions.Every time the issue of someone embracing the Christian faith comes up in India, the prevalent opinion is that the individual in question converted under duress or with some incentive. At one level, the illusion spun by the anti-Christian brigade that mass conversions will result in a sizable proportion of Hindus joining Christianity is the basis for such a notion gaining traction. On the other side, such a viewpoint implies a casteist perspective, wherein the upper caste Hindus are assuming the responsibility of “protecting and stopping” the tribals, Adivasis and Dalits from converting to Christianity, while having subjected them to systematic oppression, violence and exclusion since time immemorial. The rising attacks against Christians, can thus be safely described as attacks on Dalits and the marginalised of this country. 

Extremist Hindutva outfits have lately been involved in disrupting churches, prayer halls, and Christmas and Easter celebrations. The specter of mass conversion has been utilized repeatedly to harass Christian communities, indicating collective distress and uneasiness among Hindutva movements over the perceived insult to and abandonment of the Hindu faith by certain converts.

In the majority of these situations, the police and other authorities side with the perpetrators. The simple fact, however, is that Christianity in India offers no challenge to Hinduism’s demographic or philosophical might.


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