St. John’s Senior Secondary School in Madhya Pradesh's Damoh town compelled to hold online classes for its 2,300 students
A photo of the wall constructed by police blocking access to the St. John’s Senior Secondary School at Damoh in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. (Photo supplied)
A Catholic school in central India was forced to hold online classes after police claimed ownership of its approach road and erected a wall overnight, blocking the school's gate.
“We have been using the approach road for 35 years and it is closed now,” said Sister Sophy Bharat, principal of St. John’s Senior Secondary School in Damoh district in Madhya Pradesh.
“A contingent of police personnel on June 22 night descended in front of the school gate and dumped construction materials and immediately erected close to a 100-meter-long wall. It blocked our entry and exit through the approach road,” she told UCA News on June 27.
On June 23, when students, some accompanied by their parents, arrived, they were unable to enter the campus and the principal had to declare a holiday for that day.
“When we took up the matter with the district superintendent of police, he was rude, and said he was protecting a police property and refused to listen to us,” Sister Bharat said.
The principal then approached the district collector, the district's administrative head, and other senior officials who assured their support but took no action to resolve the issue.
“Now, we have no way for the children to reach the school,” the nun said.
However, Superintendent of Police Rakesh Kumar Singh told UCA News on June 27 the road was on police land.
“It was not their road, let them construct their [own] way in their [own] land.”
Sister Bharat said the school never claimed ownership of the road.“It is a government-built road public road and marked as a public road in official documents. This sudden action, that too from the police without any prior notice, made us wonder about their motive,” the nun said.
The school used this road as another way to our school through a residential colony and was very narrow. "If the wall is not removed we have to depend on the narrow road," the nun said.
After consultation with parents, “we have started online classes to ensure that children do not miss their classes on account of a well-orchestrated attack on our school,” she added.
The school management has decided to find an alternative road for the children while also challenging the police action in court.
The school started in 1988 has close to 2,300 students and is one of the most sought-after institutions even among the educated and wealthy families in the area.
“We do know why our school was targeted in such a way when we have not done any illegal act,” the nun said.
This is the latest in a series of targeted attacks on Christian institutions, especially schools, hostels, and orphanages.
“It is not just an incident but part of a well-planned strategy to target Christian schools and other institutions,” said Daniel John, a Catholic leader based in Madhya Pradesh's capital Bhopal.
John appealed to state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to “end the harassment against Christians” who make up a minuscule 0.29 percent of more than 72 million people in the state, ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.
Fake cases are registered against Church leaders, including bishops, priests, nuns, pastors and employees working in Christian institutions, on alleged charges of religious conversion.
“The federal and provincial panels meant for protecting child rights “keep conducting surprise inspections on Christian schools, hostels and orphanages and filing false cases of religious conversion to harass us,” John lamented.
On June 22, the Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court granted bail to Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur and Sister Liji Joseph of the Congregation of Mother Carmel. They were charged with religious conversion at an orphanage.
Besides Christian institutions, a school under Muslim management in Damoh district, faced several cases, including allegations of religious conversion, in June despite denial from the management.
Christian leaders suspect a larger strategy to create communal discord ahead of the state elections by year-end.
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