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ICC Note:

Four Catholic priests in India’s Madhya Pradesh state were illegally arrested by police and charged with rioting and criminal intimidation for protecting a church-run hospital from a mob of Hindu hardliners. The priests had formed a human shield in front of a boundary wall of the hospital that a mob of hardliners were attempting to demolish so they could illegal grab land owned by the church. When police arrived on this scene, they arrested the priests instead of the mob. Discrimination against Christians in India is common and local authorities often side with local Hindu radicals in disputes between religious communities. Will the national government step in and make sure the church-run hospital is protected? 

02/04/2018 India (UCAN) – Four Catholic priests have been charged with rioting and criminal intimidation in India’s Madhya Pradesh state over a land dispute involving a hardline Hindu group.

The priests of Ujjain Diocese resisted an attempt by a Hindu group to take over a piece of land in front of a Catholic Church-run hospital in Ujjain, a city with a Hindu temple and a site for pilgrims.

“No one has been arrested yet,” an official of Madhav Nagar police station, where the case has been registered, told on Feb. 1.

The dispute revolves around a plot of land adjacent to Pushpa Mission Hospital, a 44-year-old facility with 200 beds. Hospital authorities say the local civic body gave the public land to the hospital for use as a parking area and to maintain its greenery.

However, some members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the pro-Hindu party that runs the state government, attempted to take over the land on Jan. 27, accusing the church of illegally occupying the site. However, the church obtained a “stay order” to maintain the status quo from the Madhya Pradesh state High Court.

Gagan Singh, who led the crowd and claimed to be the owner of the public land, is the assistant to the local BJP parliamentarian for the area.

Church officials say charges against them were framed under political influence.

Tension intensified after revenue officials arrived to measure and demarcate the land. A crowd also claimed a portion of the land.

Attempts were made to demolish the boundary wall despite resistance from church officials, diocesan public relations officer Father Antony Nirappel told

As priests and hospital staff created a human shield to block a bulldozer and called police, the crowd began to throw stones at the hospital. Police arrived and dispersed the crowd.

“But soon we were informed that police have charged four of us with rioting and criminal intimidation of people,” said Father Nirappel, one of the accused.

He said it was “just another instance of harassment” in the state, where Christians regularly face violence and harassment at the hands of Hindu groups who want to make India a Hindu-alone nation.

The accused include hospital director Anthony Pulickamandapam, who said the hospital has ownership documents for “every inch of land we possess” and a receipt from the civic body for paying mandatory fees to use the land, he said.

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