MP: Hindutva mob hoists saffron flags over 4 Christian prayer halls, no FIR filed

The Supreme Court had last year told states to take suo motu action over hate speech incidents.

WrittenBy:Sumedha Mittal
Date:
A picture of the right-wing activist putting a saffron flag on a cross.

A mob of Hindutva activists reportedly climbed on top of four Christian prayer halls after Sunday mass, and hoisted the saffron flag while chanting Jai Shri Ram, in Ranapur tehsil of Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua district.

While three of these halls – in Dhamaninathu, Dabtalai and Uberao – are managed by the Protestant Shalom Church, the Church of South India runs the fourth in Matasula village. All these spots are located near each other. 

Videos of the incident, which took place on Sunday under Ranapur police station limits, have been widely circulated on social media after Congress leader Digvijaya Singh posted visuals on Twitter. Ranapur SHO Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi confirmed the episode though an FIR is yet to be filed. “If anyone approaches us to lodge an FIR, we will definitely register one,” he said.

While Pastor Paul Muniya from the Shalom Church said they were in the process of compiling a report to file a police complaint, Pastor Godwin of CSI told Newslaundry that the church is considering whether a complaint has to be filed.

“A crowd started their rally on motorcycles from a local market in Ranapur block and ended with hoisting saffron flags. It all seemed pre-planned… They were also carrying lathis…The crowd swelled as they moved from one prayer hall to another, starting with about 60 people at the time of first flag hoisting to over 200 people in the last one,” claimed Pastor Muniya.

Pastor Godwin said the police reached the spot immediately after the incident and took down the flags. 

However, Pastor Muniya alleged that the police tried to convince them not to lodge a complaint. “They also advised us to handle the situation with love as taught in our religion, and assured that they will lodge an FIR if such an incident takes place again but for now don’t say anything because they said there is a lot of pressure from the top.”

He also claimed that a few VHP workers were part of the mob of local youths who were involved in the incident.

However, Pastor Godwin as well as Jhabua’s VHP head Prem Singh Daber denied the allegations. Ranapur SHO Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi also denied Pastor Muniya’s claims that the police refused to lodge a complaint.

Meanwhile, Fr Rocky, PRO of the Catholic Diocese in Jhabua and a member of the All Christian Union Jhabua Forum, said, “We have met the Superintendent Police and Collector and alerted them about the incident. The Church has two important events scheduled on the weekend in Jhabua for which we have asked them to beef up our security. Post the events, we will definitely file an FIR.”

Last year, the Supreme Court had directed states to suo motu register FIRs on hate speech incidents and proceed against offenders without waiting for someone to lodge a complaint.

Newslaundry reached out to Jhabua Collector Tanvi Hooda and District Magistrate Agam Jain but received no response. This report will be updated if a response is received.

Visuals of the incident showed a group of youths standing on top of a prayer hall, one of them tying a saffron flag with Lord Ram’s image to the holy cross on the building.

Pastor Muniya said those behind the incident – which suggests the rising influence of Hindutva outfits on tribal youths – must be taught a lesson. 

Jhabua has an 87 percent ST population, comprising Bhil and Bhilal tribes.

“This is the first time I witnessed any such incident in our district. It has happened in the light of the Ram Mandir event in Ayodhya. The youth, especially, were too charged about it. We tried to calm down the crowd, by saying whatever you are doing is not right and hurts the religious sentiments of other people. But they were out of control and were not ready to listen to anyone,” said Pastor Godwin.

Update at 2.30 pm, Jan 24: Fr Rocky was erroneously identified as the PRO of the Protestant Shalom Church. This has been corrected.

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