Nationalist group clashes with Indian police in attempt to perform Hindu religious ritual at Catholic school

(Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)A protester holds a placard during a rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in Mumbai February 9, 2015.

Members of a radical nationalist group in India clashed with police last week when they attempted to perform a Hindu religious ritual at a Catholic college in the city of Vidisha, in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

The police were called after members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) reportedly tried to force St. Mary's Post Graduate College to allow them to perform the ritual known as Bharat Mata Aarti to "instill a sense of patriotism" among students.

"The ABVP youth wing trespassed St. Mary's Post Graduate College - which is a private, unaided institution - on December 30 and they threatened that they would perform Bharat Mata Aarti forcefully on January 4, 2018," said Fr. Maria Stephen, the public relations officer for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh. "The activists were demanding that they perform a Hindu ritual inside the premises," he added.

According to Crux, Aarti is a ritual which involves burning a special candle and singing songs of praise to the Hindu "mother goddess" Bharat Mata, who is said to be the personification of the nation of India.

Fr. Shaju Devassy, the director of St. Mary's, said that members of ABVP argued with the school administrators and threatened to force their way into the school after they were refused permission to perform the ritual.

"The ABVP members are provoking the people of Vidisha against this institution through social media and other means due to which the reputation of this institution is deformed. Moreover, we are emotionally harassed. The students of the institution are feeling insecure due to these violent procedures," he said.

News18.com reported that the school had been given police protection to prevent members of ABVP from trespassing into the institution as the radical group had already expressed its intentions in advance.

Clashes reportedly ensued when the activists refused to budge and tried performing the ritual at the school's gate.

Some protesters were reportedly detained by the police, but ABVP national executive member Ankit Garg said that none of those detained were members of the organization.

Bishop Anthony Chirayath of the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Sagar, which oversees the institution, said that he was "in great anxiety" because of AVBP's threats to conduct the ritual.

"We do not even conduct Mass or any Christian prayers in our College and we will not allow any puja [Hindu ritual] to take place," the bishop stated.

Christians in Madhya Pradesh have come under attack from Hindu nationalists in the past year. Last month, several priests and seminarians were attacked in the city of Satna while they were singing Christmas carols.

In September, the Catholic Church has been accused of conducting forced conversions of nearly 200 people at a hostel for students belonging to the marginalized tribal community. The police determined that the allegations were baseless after conducting an investigation.

A research conducted by the Washington-based International Christian Concern indicated that Christians suffered at least 23 religiously motivated attacks throughout India over the Christmas period.

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