Image Courtesy: hindustantimes.com

BY Karuna John

Sister Gracy Monteiro, a school principal, who belongs to the Mirpur Catholic Mission, her colleague Sister Roshni Minj, and their driver were attacked by a right-wing vigilante mob while boarding a bus to Varanasi. The mob dragged them to the police station after beating them up and abusing them.

The mob was reportedly a part of Hindutva groups such as the Hindu Yuva Vahini which have been gaining more ‘confidence’ that they are above the law in Uttar Pradesh and have begun prowling the streets as if looking for minority community members to victimise. On Sunday the group was prowling the streets of Mau, Uttar Pradesh, rounding up a group of Chritstians, accusing them of conversion and handing them over to the police. Members of the group remain behind bars two days later.

Then a smaller group, allegedly of the same mob, spotted the nuns’ vehicle and attacked them at the town’s bus station. These could have been dismissed as bizarre fake news if not for eyewitness accounts. Sister Grace Monteiro, who survived the attack, and the day at the police station, spoke in detail to SabrangIndia on the horror she witnessed and experienced on the streets of Mau.

She, a Ursuline Franciscan nun, had come to the city bus stand around noon, with her colleague Sister Minj, and school driver (name withheld to protect identity) when a mob of Hindutva radicals, dragged them out, roughed up the driver and forcibly took the three to the police station where there were kept till 6 p.m. Sister Monetrio says she kept asking the mobs who they were, and kept trying to prevent them from hitting the driver, a non-Christian, even as the mob continued abusing and attacking and accusing the three of religious conversion. The driver who has worked in the school for a long time, has not converted to Chritianity, and now was harassed and victimised for merely being with the sisters. At the police station they were held without  reason and later released, recalled Sr Monterio, only once she managed to contact the relevant authorities.

“There were just the three of us. I was accompanying Sister Minj who was going home to Ranchi to visit her dying father. As we did not get the direct bus, we went to the Mau bus stand and Sr Minj went to ask about the bus, while the driver and I stayed in the car. Then a mob came and attacked the driver dragged him out, forced is nuns to walk to the police station,” she recalled, adding that they were perhaps identified as Chrtians because they were in the nun’s uniform of cream-coloured salwar kameez and the convent’s name was painted on the side of their Bolero.

“They said get out of the car, I asked them why. They started hitting our driver, and I told them not to hit us as I was going to answer whatever questions they had. They told us to ‘get out of the car and we will show you who we are’,” she recalled the mob took out the vehicle’s key and made them walk to the police station. It was more shocking for her that no policeman intervened when the mob attacked.

“We were in shock, this was sudden and unprovoked. Sister Minj was already under stress as her father is critical. I demanded that a policewoman come and we will not come with them. Even the police asked us ‘are you converting’.” It was hours later, that an inspector showed up and spoke to them, “We showed him all our proof. Even the photo of Sr Minj’s critically ill father. Then the inspector said it was by mistake that we were picked up.” However, while there were no apologies, the nuns say it was the most traumatic experience, and they demand an explanation.

Sister Minj, has just managed to reach her hometown to see her dying father, and Sister Gracy says she is still in shock but will file a complaint with the authorities soon. “Who were the two attackers. They have no right to attack us. I am against mobs, we have to complain. They have no right to attack. Who gave them the authority to ask her ‘who are you, where did you come from?’” she asked adding “We are also human beings, no? I objected to them berating my driver, they kept holding his collar. What kind of security, protection do we have? I do not have any safety to go out alone. Now we have to be careful.”

She said that while she was in stress at the moment, but, there was no fear. She said, “We are citizens of india. We are not doing something wrong. We have a lot of work. The entire day was wasted in the police station. Sister Minj lost money as her ticket was wasted. She had to travel the next day. I had identified the attackers to the lady police, but the cop asked me for the photo. But the police had put us in a room by then and that man who attacked was not seen again”. She says she will soon lodge a complaint with the relevant authorities and demand answers.

Why were the vigilantes on the streets?

On Sunday October 10 a regular prayer service was attacked by a Hinduva mob  some of whom claimed to be activists of Bajrang Dal as well as Hindu Yuva Vahini. The group then forced the Christian worshipers, including the priest to the police station. According to reports, the Hindutva mob was accusing the group of ‘converting’  people. However, the devotees including one Vijendra Rajbhar, who spoke on video said they had been praying here regularly. According to the First Information Report (FIR) filed by one Radheshyam Singh the worshipers have been accused of  forcing people to convert to Christianity through allurements, as well as “violating Covid-19 protocol, using musical instruments, consuming narcotics and other intoxicants.”

Those arrested included Pastor Abraham Shakeel Ahmed, his wife Pratibha, Vijendra Rajbhar and Geeta Devi, the couple in whose house the worship took place. Rajbhar was then questioned on camera by ‘youtube journalists’, and he kept answering their leading questions and maintained that no forcible conversions were taking place and that the worship in his house had been a regular one. Even the pastor is heard saying in a video clip that anyone can attend the worship without discrimation and that they pray for those who are unwell or need any kind of support and prayer. The First Information Report alleges that the pastor and others “insulted Hindu deities using abusive language,” reported MattersIndia, adding that the devotees also abused the prime minister and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister.”

 

According to local Christians those from the independent churches are the ones most easily targeted as vigilante mobs barge into house churches, and disrupt prayers, beating up the ones leading the prayers. Some pastors, who themselves often hail from poor families, often then go into hiding and some even stop preaching. There is a rise in some ‘media houses’ such as Hindi Net News, which often work as a ‘media wing of the vigilante groups. They often accompany the mobs and then ask questions which are accusations in themselves. The narrations in Hindi often stated, “People who were converting others in a house in Mau today were arrested by the police, after locals objected to such activities, police reached the spot and arrested the pastor, the owner of the house and started investigation.” They add to the mobs allegations such as “many gather and worship here.”

SabrangIndia contacted the office of SP Mau Ghule Sushil Chandrabhan that declined to comment but confirmed that the accused were still in jail. Calls to the case’s investigating officer Inspector DK Srivastava went unanswered.

This story first appeared on sabrangindia.in