UTTAR PRADESH, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - A wave of anti-Christian sentiment in India is growing in the lead up to Christmas.
Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), a Hindu nationalist group, is warning Hindus in Catholic schools not to celebrate Christmas. The group said they are most concerned about Catholic schools in Aligarh. The head of the local HJM chapter, Sonu Savita, said Hindu children are "being asked to bring toys, gifts and celebrate Christmas" which is "an easy way to lure them to Christianity." They claim these celebrations are close to "forced conversions" and schools that do not heed their warning will have protests.
The director of Aligarh Ingraham Institute (a Methodist school), S. N. Singh, said these demands are "strange" and that they would ask the police for protection if they get any more warnings. Singh disagreed with Savita, saying, "No school forces any student to celebrate any particular festival."
The HJM is considered a "far-right" Hindu nationalist group that is affiliated with Hindu Yuva Vahini, a youth nationalist militia created by Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath is a controversial leader who has been accused of rioting, attempted murder, carrying a deadly weapon, trespassing on burial grounds and criminal intimidation.
Adityanath is also seen as "radical" in his views, owing to his "extreme criticisms of St. Mother Teresa." He claims she was part of a conspiracy to Christianize India. In April, seven Catholic bishops met with Adityanth to express their concerns for recent anti-Christian episodes in his state.
In one incident, members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini broke into a church, disrupting the service. Police arrested around 150 Christians on the charge of forced conversions to Christianity.
Bishop Gerald John Mathias of Lucknow said during their meeting Adityanath "assured us that he would not allow people to stand above the law" and "expressed appreciation for our work in the service of the poor and needy," though he did note that Adityanth is "against conversions."
Despite Adityanath's assurances, incidents of intolerance towards Christians have been increasing.
On Thursday, Hindu fundamentalists detained 30 seminarians and two priests and set their car on fire just for Christmas caroling. The Indian bishops condemned the attack and the complicity of the police who held them these Christians at the police station for several hours. Monsignor Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said:
What is even more shocking is that eight priests who later went to inquire about the detained priest and seminarians were also taken into custody. Shamefully, the situation outside the police station was allowed to be so hostile that even those who wanted to approach the detained persons could get no access to them.
Monsignor Mascarenhas condemned the violence perpetrated by the "nationalists" as "disgraceful," adding, "The charge of conversion on which the priests and seminarians were detained is frivolous and laughable."
This was the second incident of religious intolerance since the beginning of Advent. On December 10, four Christians were arrested and thrown in prison for the crime of praying for Christmas. Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the arrests were illegal and just the "latest episode of intolerance against Christians." George said, "Christians are increasingly intimidated and harassed."
India has the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, an anti-conversion law that George says is "an instrument of harassment by radical, right-wing groups."
"In small, remote areas, where Jesus is the only refuge, where people come and experience a deep sense of peace and belonging to the community of believers, fringe groups disrupt the act of worship," said George. "They even use violence against the congregation, beating up women and children."