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Hindu radicals vandalize Catholic school

02/03/09 JABALPUR, India (UCAN) — Members of a Hindu radical student group attacked a Catholic school in central India, while police arrested its priest-principal for insulting the national anthem.

A trial court, however, granted Father Thomas Malancheruvil’s release on bail. Fifteen youths who had been arrested by police for the violence on the St. Thomas Senior Secondary School premises were also released on bail.

The attack occurred on Feb. 2 in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state, 745 kilometers south of New Delhi.

“It was a real ordeal for me, through no fault of mine,” Father Malancheruvil said after his release.

Narrating the events that led to his arrest, Father Malancheruvil said some teachers, including a Christian, spread a rumor that the priest had stopped them from singing the national anthem on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day.

Denying the allegation, the priest said he had rebuked Aravind Gupta, the school’s physical-training teacher, who arrived late for the school’s national-day program, which the teacher had the responsibility to conduct.

Father Malancheruvil then announced a three-day suspension for Gupta and warned he would fine students and teachers who fail to attend school programs on national holidays.

“However, Gupta’s suspension was withdrawn the same day, after the teacher apologized,” Father Malancheruvil said. Even so, he charged that Gupta, a Hindu, and a Catholic teacher, Thomas Antony, along with some students absent for the Republic Day program, spread the rumor. They also lodged a police complaint.

The principal said he was surprised when around 30 members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad (ABVP, all-India student council), barged into the school premises seven days after the program, shouting slogans against him.

The intruders marched around the school premises and entered the principal’s office, destroying computers, furniture and windowpanes. The principal called the police, who came immediately and arrested the trouble makers. Five ABVP activists sustained wounds when the police used canes on them.

The ABVP is the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party), which rules the state.

“I was asked to accompany the police on the pretext of (their) providing security,” Father Malancheruvil said. But when they reached the station, he added, “the police arrested me.” Police booked the priest for intentionally preventing the singing of India’s national anthem, an offense punishable by a fine and a three-year prison sentence.

Robert Anthony, the priest’s lawyer, said the police rarely use the section of law invoked in the case.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal condemned the incident, calling on the administration to deal with such violence “with iron hands,” lest it undermines the country’s ethos and constitution. “Chaos will become the order of the day,” he predicted.

Young people acting as “moral brigade” is a serious matter for people who respect laws, the prelate warned. Nonetheless, he expressed happiness that top state officials’ swift action “saved” the situation from getting worse.

V.D. Sharma, ABVP national general secretary, continued to allege that Father Malancheruvil stopped students from singing the national anthem, calling this “totally anti-national.”

According to Sharma, his organization’s members had gone to the school to protest after police failed to act on their complaint, and “not to precipitate violence.” However, the principal called the police, who caned his people, said Sharma. “Those who don’t respect the national anthem will have no place in the country,” he added.