A group of right-wing Hindutva men recently stormed St. Mary’s Convent School in Deori, Madhya Pradesh. They created a ruckus outside the gates of the school. They demanded the school be derecognised and accused the school of disrespecting Hindu deity Lord Ganesh and demanded a police investigation against the principal, Sister Sarita Joseph.
Some protestors even forcefully entered the principal’s office while the principal was there, compelling school staff to call for help and police assistance. The mob eventually dispersed from the school campus after receiving assurances of a a police probe in the school.
St. Mary’s Convent School, located in the Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh, is managed by the nuns of the Congregation of Jesus within the Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Church.
Sister Sarita Joseph vehemently denied the allegations by the men, clarifying that the school is respectful towards all religions without discrimination based on caste, creed, or faith. “We offer education to all our students equally,” she stated.
However, the incident has not only shaken the school but also raised concerns among Christian leaders in the region. Daniel John, a Catholic leader based in Bhopal declared the incident as an attempt to tarnish the school’s image and the Christian community’s reputation. He asserted that this could be part of a larger strategy to create communal conflict ahead of the upcoming state elections.
Madhya Pradesh, which is governed by the majoritarian BJP, is heading towards elections later this year which is slated to be a tough battle for the ruling party this year. The incident at St. Mary’s Convent School has further worsened the delicate teetering edge on which communal harmony sways in the political landscape, as Hindutva groups have increasingly targeted Christian institutions, including schools and churches in recent times.
Christian leaders in the region have in the past expressed concern over violence against minorities with fake cases being registered against Church leaders, including bishops, priests, nuns, pastors, and educators, on charges of religious conversion.
For instance, just earlier this month in September a priest, Fr. Anil Francis, who worked as a manager at St. Alphonsa Academy in Garhakota, Madhya Pradesh, was compelled to take his own life. He had been facing legal issues after the Madhya Pradesh police booked him in August for sharing a post related to Manipur violence in a WhatsApp group. Sources from the diocese claim that the priest had been experiencing considerable stress and pressure due to the FIR filed against him which also alleged that he had made an insult to the national flag. It was reported that the FIR against him was registered by Hindutva groups, according to Maktoob Media.