One of the oldest Catholic institutions in Manipur was set on fire; another school was attacked by Hindu radicals in Maharashtra. Schools are open to the poor and tribal children.
The latest incidents occurred in Maharashtra where teachers were accused of "forced conversions" and in Manipur where a school was the victim of an arson attack for suspending some unruly students. Both cases highlight a climate of persecution that has come to hang over Christian educational facilities.
Fr Felix Anthony, spokesman for the Catholic Church in northeastern India, told AsiaNews that someone set fire last night to the St Joseph Higher Secondary School in Sugnu, Chandel district.
The school is the second oldest Catholic educational facility in the State of Manipur. Built 55 years ago for the poor tribal population, especially Kuki and Anāl, it currently has 1,400 students. All the school records and documents were lost in the fire.
The attack was sparked by a disciplinary measure taken against six students on 19 April. The latter had posted a video on social media in which they are seen insulting a teacher and the school during class hours. When school administrators saw the video, they suspended the students for a month.
Following the school’s decision, the father of one of the students, a political leader, demanded the suspension be revoked. He also roused members of the Kuki Student Union against the school. When the school refused, some students set fire to the building.
Fr Jacob Chapao, head of the Manipur Catholic Youth Organisation, condemned the attack. "Such barbaric vandalism against a school is against humanity."
A couple of days earlier, on Tuesday, the Christ Primary School in Palghar, a district in Maharashtra, was attacked by the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), a Hindu nationalist organisation affiliated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (an extreme right-wing nationalist paramilitary).
The attackers smashed the windows of classrooms and unfolded a banner that urged parents not to send their children to school. Their anger was triggered by false accusations against 14 teachers of trying to convert pupils to Christianity.
For Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the situation "is alarming.” The AHP “supports the ideals of Hindutva,” i.e. Hindu supremacist nationalism.
“This is not the first time a school has been attacked.” Sadly, “The Christian minority is vulnerable and is intimidated by the majority.” The GCIC president notes that “India is a secular country and religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution."
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to the article)