Indian Catholics are calling for the closure of all Catholic schools on March 25 as a sign of protest against the recent surge in anti-Christian violence in the country.
“We demand the closure of schools of the Archdiocese of Mumbai March 25, to protest the attacks on Christian institutions,” said the statement from a group of Christian organizations that met on Sunday.
The Christian platform, which includes such groups as “Catholic Secular Forum,” “Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum,” “Association of Concerned Catholics,” and others, stated, “The Christian communities have been under attack since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.”
We have demanded that “the Catholic schools remain closed March 25 to send a strong message to the politicians,” the statement said.
The group is reacting in particular to the recent rape of a 71-year-old nun in West Bengal, as well as attacks on a Catholic church in Panvel and the assault on a group of Bible students in Jabalpur.
On March 21, three vandals on motorcycles threw stones at the statue of the patron saint of St. George Catholic church, shattering the glass case around it. Mumbai CCTV cameras caught the vandals on film, but they were wearing masks.
Also over the weekend, a group of marauders broke into the courtyard of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Jabalpur, where participants in a Bible convention were sleeping.
According to the local bishop of Jabalpur, Gerald Almeida, who organized the convention, a large group of brigands broke into the building at around one o’clock in the morning, “attacking the faithful and stealing their belongings.” After the beatings, the bishop said, “the attackers destroyed the door of the cathedral and some vehicles. The police arrived several hours later, only at 4:00 am, when it was all over,” he said.
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) condemned the new anti-Christian attacks. “These episodes reveal the fragile situation of religious freedom in our country,” said Sajan George, the president of the Council. “These right-wing groups carry out their reign of terror against the vulnerable Christian community.”
The Bombay Archdiocese has yet to make a decision regarding the call for school closings.
“There is no plan to stay shut as yet. We don’t want a knee jerk reaction and will wait for police to do their work, and also exams are on and we don’t want to inconvenience those students or give a holiday to the rest of the students without them understanding the reason,” said a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, demonstrators came out in droves for a protest rally in New Delhi late last week to mark the first 300 days in government for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a group with close ties to Hindu nationalists.
A report was circulated at the rally listing 168 incidents of anti-Christian violence and harassment since Modi took power, and 222 occasions of “hate speech and media campaigns” from Hindu fundamentalist groups.
The latest attacks on churches show that “the situation is turning from bad to worse,” said Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, who heads the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Many judge the rash of attacks to be a direct result of the tacit permission of the BJP government for anti-Christian violence.
Archbishop Cornelius Leo of Bhopal said that some “are becoming more brazen because no one takes action against them since the BJP is driving the central government. This is dangerous for our democratic values.”
“The Prime Minister said that there will be no religious intolerance or division,” he said, “but these elements feel emboldened to move forward from the fact that New Delhi does not deal with them severely.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.