Hindu activists have reportedly beaten up eight priests outside a police station in India's Madhya Pradesh state while they were trying to assist Christians who were detained for allegedly trying to convert non-Christians.
According to UCA News, the assault victims came to the police station to assist 30 seminarians and two priests, who were arrested on Dec. 14 when they went to a local village to sing Christmas carols.
When the priests arrived at the station, they were allegedly beaten up and their car was torched by activists.
The group of carolers from St. Ephrem's Theological College in Satna town were detained after a group of men stormed the venue of a pre-Christmas celebration at Bhoomkar village, alleging that religious conversions were taking place at the event. Fr. M. Rony, the social work director of Satna diocese, said that the event was organized for children by the Syro-Malabar Church.
Fr. George Mangalappally said that they were singing when a mob started shouting slogans in protests of what they regarded as conversion activities. "One of them called police and demanded action against us," he said.
A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the carolers were kept in "protective custody" after being arrested and charged due to fears that they would be attacked if released immediately.
Fr. Anish Emmanuel, who was one of the priests who went to the police station to aid the carolers, said that about 100 Hindus attacked them in the police compound.
"We were beaten up in front of the police, but they did nothing. They set our vehicle on fire, forcing us to take shelter inside the police station," he recounted.
According to NDTV, an 18-year-old was arrested on Saturday for torching the priests' car. The group of carolers was reportedly released after questioning, but a case was filed against a priest and five others.
The case was based on a complaint by a local named Dharmendra Dohar, who alleged that he was illegally converted on Dec. 10 and was paid 5,000 rupees (US$65) for it.
"He was given a holy dip in a pond and his name was changed to Dharmendra Thomas, the complainant said. They also asked him to pray to Lord Christ," Superintendent of Police DD Pandey said.
When asked by reporters if he had indeed changed his religion, Dohar replied: "I can't speak on this... If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue... it will be said that I'm changing my statement."
Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, which documents persecutions against Christians, said that the latest incident was the 48th attack on Christian carolers in India this Christmas season. Overall, more than 650 attacks against Christians have been reported in India in 2017.