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Hindu Mob Stones Crowd at Catholic School Opening

by Nirmala Carvalho

Compass Direct News

MUMBAI, February 2 (Compass) – A 50-strong Hindu mob attacked a new Catholic school and boarding hostel as the facility was inaugurated on Sunday (January 29) in Maharashtra state. The mob threw stones into the crowd, broke chairs and beat participants with sticks.

When church officials met with local government and police officers yesterday, they discovered that Hindu extremists had asked the police three days before the opening ceremony not to allow the school, called Suryodaya Ashram, to operate in Ghosali village.

Despite this intimation of possible violence from the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, an affiliate of the extremist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) working among tribal groups, police did not inform staff at the school and offered no protection for the event.

The school was built to provide education for tribal children.

Bishop Thomas Dabre, who officiated at the ceremony, described the attack. “Midway through the program, the mob disrupted us, initially by shouting slogans and arguing with some of the 200 people who were assembled. When they did not succeed in dispersing the people, they resorted to violence.”

The mob accused Catholic school staff of trying to convert their children by offering them education and chanted, “Leave! We don’t want Christians here!”

As the situation quickly deteriorated, Father Brendan Furtado, a guest at the ceremony, called for help by telephone. Even as he made the call, someone in the mob hit him repeatedly with a heavy stick on the back of his neck.

Despite receiving the call for help, police did not arrive until two hours later.

When the mob finally left, more than 60 wooden chairs lay broken amid piles of stones in the courtyard, and there were holes in the roof of the new building.

“These are misguided fundamentalists,” said Dabre. “Fortunately we escaped with our lives, because the stones were pelting us like rain.”

Inspector Satya Pal Singh confirmed that the attack had taken place but said a “strong police force” from adjoining Jawahar and Vikramgad had brought the situation under control by 7 p.m.

Dabre lodged a police complaint, and 18 of the attackers were arrested. They have now been released on bail, however, and the school fears a second attack. Police have stationed 25 officers outside the school premises.

“We should not take this lightly,” Dabre told Compass. “The Christians are terrified and need to be reassured that they will be protected. Imagine the daring of these men – that they would attack even such a large gathering.”

Following the attack, Dolphy D’Souza, president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, urged the Maharashtra government to ensure ongoing protection for staff and students at the school and to arrest and punish those responsible for the attack.

Dr. John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, issued a press statement in which he called on Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to take decisive steps to instill confidence in the Christian community, which has suffered a wave of violent attacks in recent weeks.

He also urged the Indian government to reiterate the need for both central and state governments to pursue criminal proceedings against both Hindu extremists and police who have initiated or taken part in the violence.