Madhya Pradesh: Mob gives Catholic school 15 days to install a statue of goddess Saraswati

There were thousands of children, belonging to various religions, in the school at the time the group visited


On October 25, a group of right-wingers arrived at a Catholic school in Madhya Pradesh, demanding the school install an idol of goddess Saraswati on the campus. Over 30 people claiming to be from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal demanded that Father Augustine Chittuparambil, manager of Christ Jyoti Senior Secondary School in Satna district headquarters, accept their memorandum and act as instructed.

The group claimed that the school was built “where the idol of goddess Saraswati existed.” However, the school celebrates its 50th year or golden jubilee, next year, and none of the old time employees recall such a statue existing, nor has any right wing group raised this issue before. The school is managed by the Syro-Malabar diocese of Satna, Madhya Pradesh, and is less than 500 kilometers from the state capital Bhopal. The Hindutva group has now given senior priests 15 days to comply with their demand or else face “protests”. 

There were thousands of children, belonging to various religions, in the school at the time the group visited. To protect the children,  Father Augustine Chittuparambil, himself went to the gate and spoke to the Hindutva group. Speaking to SabrangIndia, he shared details of what happened, and what the next course of action will be.

Why did the group come to the school suddenly?

They gave me 15 days to install a statue. This is the second time they have come here in five years. In 2016 or so they had some agitation like this, but that subsided in time… They had other demands then. This time it is purely one demand. According to my understanding [this is happening] maybe because by-elections are soon underway here and in Khandwa. They gave 15 days’ time [to install a Saraswati statue]. We are writing to the collector and SP, and are asking for protection and that they  ensure such things do not happen again. I will also inform all autorites including the minority commission. We deny their [VHP’s] false claims [that a statue existed earlier]. Our school has its golden jubilee year next year till now they did not find anything? We do not have any statues and photos. Only one Christ photo is there.

But is it a Christian school? It is for your board to decide…

Yes, it is a minority school. We don’t compel anybody, even our prayers are common prayers [not religion specific]. Suppose if there are religious prayers it is for every religion. All national festivals are celebrated. The entire school participates. Everybody can participate, there is no compulsion, 

What authority does VHP have to demand a statue?

Actually the police informed me they [VHP] are coming, and themselves came here before their [VHP’s] arrival and gave protection on October 25 morning. We have two gates, they came from the main entrance onto the inside road but then the police told them to stand outside. They told me ‘father come and receive [the memorandum] rather than them creating an agitation. The group gave me a memorandum, a gyapan, on the VHP letterhead. 

But the VHP is not a legal body to make such demands

But they have many units here. The school is functioning, pre-board exams are going on. Three thousand students were in school that day. Class 1 onwards the students are there. If they had come inside it could have been a serious issue. The police did well here. Some of the teachers were there with me. They [VHP] are not supposed to come here during school timings. This is to create a nuisance and a bad atmosphere.

That is a high risk when such a mob arrives at school gates…

Yes. They [students] can get frightened, the implications last for a long time. They [VHP] came around 11.45, without any appointments. They are not supposed to approach us [like this] they should come through proper authorities [to give a memorandum], if they have a complaint they should approach the police and civil authority. But they did not do that. [They came] mob style, they also raised some slogans. They said we give you 15 days’ time. You have to install [the statue] and inform us or send photos of it being installed. Teachers who have taught here for 20 years told me they have never seen such a thing in this school. In MP such incidents are being created. Last year they had objected to some carol singers during Christmas.

How did you respond this time?  

I told them that as far as I know, there were no statues or photos in our school of this sort. 



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