Indian bishop attacked by extremists

Bangalore Archbishop Bernard Moras and two priests were attacked and detained by a mob of alleged Hindu fundamentalists while on a visit to a parish church and school on the outskirts of the southern Indian city.

UCA News reports that a crowd of 1,000 people shouted anti-Christian slogans and some of them assaulted Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore on the evening of 18 December, as the bishop visited a church and a school in Jalahalli, a Bangalore suburb, that were attacked the previous night.

"As we arrived at the school gate, our car was attacked," Archbishop Moras was quoted as saying on the website of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. "They tried to hit me but I escaped injury."

The archbishop was on a visit to two Claretian priests who were attacked by alleged Hindu fanatics the previous night. The attackers also damaged St Thomas Church and St Claret School, which the Claretians manage.

The mob detained the archbishop and the priests for more than 20 minutes.

The Claretians were locked inside and remained unaware of the prelate's presence at their gate. Archbishop Moras had to call a high-ranking state police officer to rescue him and the priests.

Fr Jacob Arackal, the Claretians' local superior, told UCA News the incidents were "all pre-planned" to discredit the Church.

Describing the earlier incident, Fr Arackal said 100 people came at night, shouted pro-Hindu slogans and threw stones at the church and school, in the same campus.

The mob also broke the church's glass windows, and damaged the electric lights and flower garden. It then moved to the school and damaged its building and equipment until midnight, when the police arrived.

Fr Arackal said he phoned the police station, but the police came "to arrest the priests rather than the assaulters".

The incidents followed a complaint of child abuse registered against school principal Fr Mathew Theruvanmoola, who had allegedly "misbehaved" with two girl students during a school study tour.

The police registered the case around 10 pm. Local television channels and newspapers carried the news the next morning, Fr Arackal said.

When they went to the police station to report the incident, the priests discovered that a report had already been filed, against them. They immediately informed the archbishop of Bangalore, Mgr Bernard Moras, who went to the scene of the incident yesterday morning.

The next day, the school declared a holiday to protest the attack but about 1,000 people gathered at the school. According to Fr Arackal, the crowd comprised mostly right-wing Hindu activists and members of Kannada Sangha, a group that advocates use of the local Kannada language.

Fr Eppen, who was hospitalised after the attack, told UCA News the issue has both sectarian and linguistic overtones. Recently, the state government announced its decision to withdraw recognition of more than 1,000 schools that do not use Kannada as the medium of instruction. "Of late the Kannada Sangha groups were targeting schools that still use English as a medium," Fr Eppen explained.

Fr George Kannanthanam, a member of the Claretian provincial council, suspects the immediate provocation for the attacks was a march the school organised recently to protest the government policy.

Attacks on Church people and their institutions have increased since February, when a new coalition government came into power in the state. A major partner in the coalition is the Bharatitya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party), considered the political arm of right-wing Hindu groups.

Mob assaults archbishop and priests, vandalizes Church property (Indian Catholic, 19/12/06)
Bishop attacked in Bangalore as police look on (AsiaNews, 19/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bangalore Archdiocese
Archbishop Bernard Moras (Catholic Hierarchy)
Catholic Bishops Conference of India

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Indian Catholic school ransacked by Hindu militants (CathNews, 13/9/06)

20 Dec 2006