Hindu mob attacks Catholic NGO staff, accuses them of indulging in religious conversion ( Sabrang )

Travelling for an educational event, members were physically and verbally abused, abducted; no arrests made yet

A Catholic priest in western India sought police protection for his non-governmental organisation (NGO) after his staff members were attacked on a running train by Hindu nationalists who claimed they were missionaries involved in conversion activities.

A crowd of roughly 15 Hindu youth assaulted seven teachers of a Catholic NGO working in Dhule district in the western state of Maharashtra while traveling by express train. On January 16, the night of the attack, the team was on an education tour when the mob surrounded and attacked them at the Sangli railway station.

GunilalPawara, supervisor of a team of 42 teachers including 14 females who work for the NGO named Shirpur Vishwa Mandal Sevashram, stated that he was yanked from his bunk and hit on the head with a steel object until blood began to pour from a cut. As reported by the UCA News, Pawara further provided that the Hindu mob accused the team of attempting to convert indigenous tribal people, and had repeatedly asked for Father Constancio Rodrigues, the NGO’s director.

On January 20, Father Rodrigues told UCA News that he was supposed to accompany his team but was unable to do so at the last minute. He further asserted that the attackers knew the exact berth numbers of the team members, so it was a well-planned attack, but the mob clearly intended to target him.On January 21, a complaint was sent by the victim group to the Superintendent of Police, Belagavi and the Office of Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

Brief account of the attack

The group were going to Belagavi for an exchange of educational and social work experience there with the village level animators of Jana Jagaran Sanstha, Belagavi. Accordingly, on the morning of 16th January 2023, they started their journey from Shirpur District Dhule, Maharashtra to Belagavi by Goa Express (Nizamuddin Vasco Express) at 11.40 am.

As has been provided in the complaint, the group was sitting in coach number S6. Around 9.30 pm to 10 pm, near the Sangli railway station, some young men suddenly entered their coach, and started beating upthe group members while they were sleeping. They were asking questions such as, “Are you going for conversion?”. They were also repeatedly asking after Father Rodrigues.

As the mob got to know that the group members were a part of the Adivasi community, they started abusing them and uttering slurs. In addition to verbal abuse, the group members were also subjected to physical abuse. The mob used a walking stick, belonging to a disabled teacher Tara Singh ChaitramPawara, and steel kadas (bangles) to hit the group members.

Immediately after reaching Sangali railway station, the mob dragged some of the group members out of the train and took GunilalPawara to the railway police stationed standing at platform of Sangali Railway station. The police asked whether any quarrel had taken place. After getting to know the reason of the quarrel, the police questioned the mobregarding who they were, to which they replied they were locals. Post this, the culprits ran away from the spot.

The group then boarded the train again. On reaching the Belagavi railway station at around 1 am, the catholic group was surrounded by forty young men and was detained by the Belagavi railway police after getting down from the train. The railway police brought the group out of the station to the compound and handed them over to the Belagavi police. The police made all the member sit on the ground and questioned them. The questions ranged from asking where the group was travelling from, the purpose of their travel and the kind of education they were engaged in.

This story was originally published in sabrangindia.in . Read the full story here

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