New Delhi: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday strongly condemned the harassment of a group of nuns by some Bajrang Dal activists in Uttar Pradesh’s Jhansi recently and urged the Centre to take action, saying such incidents tarnish the image of the nation.
In his letter to Union home minister Amit Shah, Vijayan sought strict action against those “who disrupt and impair the freedom of individual rights” guaranteed by the constitution. To which, Shah assured strong action against the culprits.
Noting that Uttar Pradesh is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shah, while addressing a poll rally in Kerala, said, “I want to assure the people of Kerala that the culprits behind this incident will be brought to justice at the earliest.”
The issue was raised before Shah by the party’s Kanjirappally assembly candidate for the April 6 polls, K.J. Alphonse, who is his former ministerial colleague in the Union cabinet.
On March 19, two nuns and two postulants, belonging to the Sacred Heart convent under the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church, were taken off the Utkal Express from Delhi to Rourkela in Odisha and detained for questioning by railway police in UP’s Jhansi.
The two postulants were travelling for the first time since joining the Christian congregation to their homes accompanied by the two nuns. Following a complaint from some Bajrang Dal members, alleging that the two girls were being taken for “forceful religious conversion”, they were forcefully removed from the train and taken into custody by the UP police.
The Bajrang Dal members, who boarded the train from Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, allegedly harassed the nuns and asked the postulants to show their identity proof, Scroll reported.
The report said when one of the postulants told the Bajrang Dal members that she was born a Christian and had not been forced into converting, the men accused the girl of lying.
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Chief minister Vijayan said, “You would agree with me that such incidents tarnish the image of the nation and its ancient tradition of religious tolerance and practice … Such incidents require utmost condemnation by the Union government.”
Earlier, addressing the media in Pathanamthitta, Vijayan said the constitution gives freedom to everyone in the country to believe or not to believe in any religion.
“.. What happened yesterday was an encroachment on the freedom. Both these freedoms are fundamental rights of Indians. The nuns faced the violation of these rights during the train journey,” he pointed out.
What happened in Uttar Pradesh should not have happened in the country and it is a “very serious matter”, he said.
Vijayan also attacked the ruling BJP in UP, saying the northern state is ‘notorious’ for such matters.
“Violence in the name of religion is on the rise in many parts of our country. Violence against women and marginalised groups are on the rise.”
“Uttar Pradesh is notorious for such matters. All such illegal activities are taking place under the ruling BJP government there. It should also be taken seriously that all this is happening on an uncontrolled scale,” Vijayan said.
He asserted that his government would not allow Kerala to become a breeding ground for communalism and secularism would be fully protected.
According to officials in Jhansi, the nuns were detained after local Bajrang Dal activists complained that two of the women were allegedly being taken forcibly for religious conversion.
The police told PTI there was no basis in the complaint and all four women later took the next train to their destination in Odisha.
Expressing concern over the matter, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council had called for strong action against the culprits involved in the incident.
The Syro-Malabar Church in a statement to Scroll said that the group was allowed to continue their journey on March 21 on another train with a police escort as they feared retaliation from members of the Hindutva group. The nuns also had to take off their religious clothing and put on civilian clothes to avoid attention.
According to the report, around 150 Bajrang Dal activists had assembled at the railway station at a short notice, leading the Church to suspect this was a premeditated attack.
The Congress and BJP had taken up the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, respectively.
(With inputs from PTI)