New Delhi: A stall at Delhi’s World Book Fair, run by a Christian organisation, was allegedly vandalised by activists who chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on Wednesday, March 1.
Several on social media uploaded videos and images showing men shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram,’ ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, in front of the stall of The Gideons International, an evangelical Christian association. The organisation distributes free copies of the Bible.
The incident allegedly took place at around 2.15 pm.
— Sumedhapal (@Sumedhapal4) March 1, 2023
The Indian Express has reported police as having said that while a protest had taken place, “no books were torn and no violence was witnessed.”
The newspaper also reported that protesters shouted “free Bible bandh karo” – ‘stop the distribution of free Bibles’ – and accused volunteers at the store of converting people into Christianity.
They also, allegedly, tore posters at the stall.
Newslaundry has reported that the agitators sat down around the stall, and refused to leave for 20 to 25 minutes. They also began reciting the Hanuman Chalisa.
When volunteers complained to the organisers of the World Book Fair, they were allegedly told to not distribute the religious texts for free, reported Indian Express.
A spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad said that this was not an organised protest.
A volunteer from Gideons International, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Wire that multiple copies of the Bible were torn by Hindutva activists and a man named David was pushed by the attackers. The Wire visited the book fair to understand what had exactly happened there.
Another volunteer at the stall told that Hindutva activists had accused the Christian community of religious conversion. “Tum log 25000 rupee dekar logo ka dharm pariwartan karwatein ho (you people give 25000 rupees to convert people into Christianity,” he recounted what he was told.
Asked if they feel free, the volunteers at the stall said, “So much so that we have to tell our story secretly, otherwise we will be thrown out of the book fair.”
Michael William, president of the United Christian Forum, lamented over the “brazen anti-Christian narrative” at the legendary book fair. “Now even distributing a book is considered as religious conversion. I am happy the authorities resolved the matter quickly. Seems there are a new set of readers who visit book fairs not to find what may be good to read, but to identify what they can feel offended by. That is sad. A house divided cannot stand. We must be one people, of diversity and unity,” he said.
Drawing attention to growing instances of attacks against the Christian community, on February 19, a mass protest led by religious leaders from the community, including archbishops, bishops, pastors, and nuns was held at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
There are several stalls in the book fair which are run by religious organisations. Stalls run by Hindu, Muslim and Sikh groups also distribute free pamphlets, texts and books.
Apurva Shah, who is selling books on Lord Ram, does not agree with what the right-wing organisation did to the Gideons International stall. “Chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and pushing someone is not a message of Ram. Ram always believed in peace, and Bhakts never spread ‘ghalat vachan’ or the wrong message,” Shah said. “Whatever happened yesterday was wrong,” he added.
Another bookseller, Sultan Ashraf, said he was not hopeful that the guilty will be punished, going by attacks on the religious minorities. “I know what the decision of the investigation will be: the guilty will be spared, and the innocent will be taken to the gallows,” Ashraf said.
The Wire also tried to reach out to National Book Trust, India, for comment but didn’t get any response yet. This story will be updated if and when a response is received.
The incident comes as New Delhi is hosting the high-profile G20 summit, which has been widely advertised by the Narendra Modi government.
(With inputs from Yaqut Ali)