A grave situation has arisen in Vidisha, where a group of fundamentalists have virtually created a law and order problem in the district of Vidisha. The management of St. Mary’s PG was first threatened and then in fact was under heavy assault by a mob of hooligans organized by the ABVP. A grave threat to life and property was avoided due to the heavy presence of Police who acted very efficiently and decisively to avert a major calamity. St. Mary’s Vidisha is in the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Sagar. It falls in the Assembly Constituency of Vidisha which has been represented by the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and in the Parliamentary Constituency which goes by the same name represented by the Ministry of External Affairs Mrs. Sushma Swaraj. Therefore Vidisha is an important political arena and whatever happens there has grave State level and Nation wide significance.
The Catholic Church runs three high quality institutions in Vidisha: Senior Secondary Trinity Convent School which was started nearly 50 years ago and has educated thousands of students of the area. It currently has 4,500 students. St. Mary’s Senior Secondary School which has 2200 students and has been imparting education since 18 years. St. Mary’s P.G. College was started 18 years ago and at present has 1800 students.
Fr. Shaju Devassy is the Director of St. Mary’s P.G. College and holds the post since the last 3 years. He has had no problems over the last three years and the atmosphere in the college has been very conducive and peaceful.
In November 2017, under the instructions of the University, Student Representative Elections were held. All 49 class representatives were elected as Independents without affiliation to any party or panel. In fact there were no student union panels in the College. After the elections were held, suddenly out of nowhere the ABVP- the Student union wing of the BJP entered into the fray, formed a post-election panel and captured all the posts in the Students Council.
From then on, the ABVP has been creating problems and raising issues. The first issue that was raised was about displaying within the college Campus, a poster with photos of the elected Student Council Office Bearers around a picture of “Bharat Mata” goddess. The ABVP without permission installed within the college premises, two Posters with photos of Office Bearers and a picture which they called Bharat Mata. The Director Fr. Shaju pointed out that this was against the University regulations, and was done without permission. Therefore, he gently requested them to take the two posters away. The students promised that they would take it out within 3 days. However, the poster was not taken away within the promised 3 days. After the lapse of three days, the College administration removed the posters.
First Attack and Response
On 29th December, Fr. Shaju was telephonically informed by a well-wisher that a campaign had been launched against St. Mary’s College in the Facebook and other Social Media. In the campaign hatred was being promoted against the College in regards to “Bharat Mata ki Aarti” describing the college authorities as anti-national. The demand was that the ‘Aarti’ of “Bharat Mata” be allowed in the college as an expression of nationalism.
Fr. Shaju approached Bishop Anthony Chirayath, Bishop of Sagar and the Chairman of the College for instructions in the matter. Bishop Chirayath took a firm, principled and convinced stand that permission cannot be granted for the “Aarti” in the college campus.
In the morning of 30th December, 2017, the Director called for an emergency meeting of the College Staff regarding the “Bharat Mata ki Aarti”. Even while the meeting was in progress, two police constables came to the college with information that ABVP activists were going to enter the campus. The Director personally went to the main gate and guided the Security Guards in dealing with the matter. Meanwhile the Thana Incharge (TI) of the Civil Thana also arrived to the spot.
A mob of about 70 people had meanwhile reached the gate within a short span of time and began arguing with the Director. The TI informed the SDM of Vidisha about the fast developing situation who responded immediately by sending the Tehsildar. As the situation began worsening and becoming potentially dangerous, the TI advised the Director to move away from the mob. Fr. Shaju left and went to the Church presbytery which is about a kilometre away. Sometime later, the Teshildar asked the Director to receive the mob in his chamber for a discussion. Fr. Saju refused to meet the mob but agreed to meet four representatives of the group. As the four representatives entered the Church area, the entire mob jumped over the boundary wall, surrounded Fr. Shaju and began threatening and abusing him. The leaders of the mob made it clear that many more would come on 4th January 2018 to the College Campus and would not only perform “Aarti” but would force the Director Fr. Shaju to do the same. In menacing tones they warned him that should he refuse to do the “Aarti”, they would garland him with ‘juthe ki mala’ (garland of shoes). Another ABVP activist questioned Fr. Shaju, whether he knew Indian Culture. He asked the Director “Shiksha ki devi kaun hai? (Who is the goddess of Education?) Why is Saraswati Vandana (worship of goddess Saraswati) not being done in the college? The final verbal shot at the Director was that “Bharat Mata Aarti” was to be performed as a sign of Patriotism. As Indians, the activists claimed that they did not require permission from any one and would perform it anywhere without anybody’s permission. Having imparted this ominous warning, the mob left the Church compound.
Fr. Shaju immediately contacted the Chairman Bishop Chirayath who is out of station and other authorities of the Diocese and of the MP Regional Bishops’ Council regarding the matter. The Chairman was firm in his decision and advised the Director to take precautionary measures for 4th of January 2018.
A letter was drafted clearly reporting everything that took place and given to the Collector, SSP, SDM, TI and Nodal college of Vidisha. On 2nd January 2018, the Director along with few representatives met with Inspector Generals Shri Yogesh Choudary (IG, law and order), Shri Jaideep Prasad (Divisional IG), Shri Manoj Sharma (IG Intelligence) in Bhopal and submitted a memorandum on the issue. They responded immediately and positively assuring their full support and protection. In the presence of the representatives, the IG contacted the SSP of Vidisha who was on leave and the ASP of Vidisha and gave strict orders to act immediately. In the late evening of 2nd January, Fr. Shaju received a phone call from the SSP assuring his full support and asked Fr. Shaju to come for a meeting on 3rd January 2018. On 3rd January, the Director met with the Municipal Chairman of Vidisha along with representatives and informed him of the situation. The Municipal Chairman Shri Mukesh Tandon offered 3 options: (1) Give in and allow the activists to perform the Aarti and thus buy peace. (2) He proposed that he would call the authorities of all the Private Schools in the area and give them an order to do the same (3) He requested the Director to negotiate with the activists asking for more time to decide upon the matter. The SSP assured full protection and asked for suggestions in managing the entire situation. He advised the Fathers not to indulge in arguments with anyone and to take self-protective measures.
Meanwhile Fr. Freejo, the Associate Director of the College informed Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India who immediately got in touch with the Union Home Ministry and appraised them of the highly volatile situation in St. Mary’s College Vidisha. Mr. Alphons Kannanthanam, Minister of State for tourism and Mr. Conrad Sangma Member of Parliament facilitated the direct intervention of the Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh and the Home Ministry office. The Archbishop of Bhopal, Archbishop Leo Cornelio, the Chairman of the MP Regional Bishops Council was also in touch with the state authorities.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas from the moment he got the information remained in constant touch with the Fathers in the College and in continuous communication with Fr. Biju Thottankara, the Deputy Regional Secretary of MP Region who is also a priest of Sagar Diocese. Fr. Biju had moved over for the day from Bhopal to the St. Mary’s College Campus to be with the Fathers. Fr. Robin Devassy, the Vicar General of Sagar Diocese had also come over to the college
In the evening of 3rd January, the SSP telephonically asked Fr. Shaju if he had any objection if “Aarti” to Bharat Mata was performed in the temple in front of the College on the National Highway. Fr. Shaju very clearly said that he had no objection to it. Sometime later the ASP called to warn Fr. Shaju that the whole of Vidisha was against him and that he was a complete minority on the issue. From the evening of 3rd January Security was provided to the College.
On 4th January 2018, a police force of over 300 personnel, fully equipped to deal with any eventuality was stationed outside the entire campus including St. Mary’s School and Trinity Convent School. It was decided to continue with the normal functioning of the three institutions. Meanwhile a copy of the letter issued by the SDM to the College Council secretary denying the permission to perform Arti to Bharat Mata was also received by the College Management thus confirming that Fr. Shaju’s decision in refusing permission to do the Arti on 30th December was correct.
On 4th January, 2018, around 11.30 am, a group of unruly elements reached the Church compound gate. They were blocked by the Police. They began to shout slogans and abusive words against the Institution and the Director. After a while, they broke the barricades and approached the temple where they performed the “Aarti”. The College premises until then were peaceful and classes were running normally. All of a sudden, a handful of students got out of the classrooms, shut the door, entered an empty room and tried to perform the “Aarti”. The Police intervened immediately and stopped the action. Meanwhile, there was high tension for over 2 hours at the main gate where over 800 hooligans had gathered and were beginning to put pressure on the police personnel breaking through the barricades and trying to enter the college campus.
Meanwhile, another group tried to force its way into the college campus breaking a side boundary wall. Even as they managed to break a part of the wall, the Police rushed to the area and stopped them from entering. A few of the unruly elements began pelting stones at the college. In the tense situation it is reported that the police were forced to resort to mild lathi charge and tear gas. At least 3 policemen were reported to be injured. Meanwhile, as the bell was ringing for end of the classes a few students rushed out of the class and joined ABVP agitators in raising slogans. A little after 2.30 pm., the mob slowly moved away. The Police security remained till late night.
Secretary General of CBCI Rushes to Vidisha
On 5th January, 2018, the next day after the tumultuous events, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas SFX, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India came rushing to Vidisha. Immediately on arrival, he met with the Fathers and Sisters serving in the campus. Fr. Shaju Devassy, the Director, Fr. Freejo Chiniyankandath, the Associate along with the Franciscan Clarist Sisters and JMJ Sisters who minister the campus participated in the meeting. Also present were Fr. Biju Thotthunkara the Deputy Regional Secretary of MP Region and Fr. Maria Stephen, PRO of the MP Region.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas appreciated and congratulated Fr. Shaju, the Director, the Fathers and the Sisters for the courage, fortitude, the tact and conviction with which they faced the challenging situation.
He however also pointed out that 30th January and 4th January are just flash points of a much more alarming ground situation. While the stand taken by the College management under guidance of Bishop Chirayath and the Diocesan authorities is clear and principled, a back-up strategy is required to win the hearts and minds of the people of Vidisha, the parents and teachers. It is necessary to make the people understand that what is at stake is not simply one event of Aarti. The very idea of a free secular India, where everyone can live in liberty and without fear as willed by our Freedom Fighters and our Constitution was under attack. We would also need to identify other measures like a legal remedy to impede future recurrences of forced mob interventions of this type.
The Bishop also expressed the need for a frequent interaction with staff, students and civil society in defusing the tension and in fighting the forces of hatred. He advised the Fathers and Sisters to have regular staff meetings and to meet with parents individually to convey and communicate the right ideas.
He congratulated Fr. Shaju and the Fathers for following the legal ways in dealing with the dangerous situation and getting the support of the State, District and Local administrations and Police. Bishop Theodore was full of praise for the Government Authorities: Shri Rajnath Singh, the Union Home Minister, Shri Shivraj Chauhan, the Chief Minister and the 3 Inspector Generals of Police as well as the disciplined Police force and local administration, the SSP, SDM, ASP and others who maintained the rule of law and did not allow the situation to get out of hand.
Bishop Theodore then addressed over 300 professors, teachers and staff of the three institutions and held an interactive session with them for more than two and a half hours. In his address the Secretary General of the CBCI made clear the following issues:
He thanked the teachers and professors who have been dedicatedly teaching the students. He said the teacher’s vocation is a noble call because the teacher is involved in enlightening the minds of our young citizens with knowledge and enriching their hearts with principles of love, generosity and service. He thanked them for being partners with the Catholic Church in forming loyal, disciplined and dedicated citizens for Mother India. The aim of our Catholic institutions is to nurture the growth of healthy, peace loving citizens who help to build a harmonious society and a strong united India amidst its rich flowering diversity.
St. Mary’s P.G. College is a totally unaided minority Institution and the Catholic Church runs and maintains these type of institutions with much sacrifice and pain in order to serve society. Everyone is aware that St. Mary’s College has been providing education to many students who otherwise may have never been able to get this education. A majority of students in St. Mary’s come from underprivileged sections of society.
Students studying in our Institution must remember that they are in St. Mary’s because of the sacrifices of their parents who sweat it out to pay for their studies. Their parents sent them to college to study, not to participate in violent demonstrations.
What happened on 30th December 2017 and 4th January 2018 is not a fight between nationalism and anti-nationalism. It is a fight between Discipline and goondaism. We cannot allow this country to be ruled by mobs. Our students themselves must know that mobocracy will not be tolerated and does not pay.
Any attempt to communalise the situation is to be thwarted in the bud. Our nationalism is not to be decided and cannot be judged by mobs who are ready to storm into institutions and impose things upon others. Everyone has a right to worship and do Aarti to whom he or she believes is a deity. But no worship of any type can be imposed on any individual or institution.
We love and respect our Bharat Mata as much if not more but always through approved Constitutional means. Saluting the flag, singing the National Anthem, serving the poor of this country, following the rule of law and being disciplined citizens is real nationalism. People who storm colleges and aggressively impose their ideologies are the real anti-nationals.
It should never be forgotten that our Freedom Fighters who earned our Independence with their sweat and blood gave us a Constitution that respects every man and women in his or her dignity irrespective of Religion, Region, Language or any other factor. At partition while one country decided to be based on religious affiliation, our wise fore-fathers chose to give us this beautiful country with its diversity without imposing any one Religion on its citizens. We should proudly protect the Constitution that they have given us.
The country has a choice between two types of Nationalisms: the one practiced by Nathuram Godse and the other by Mahatma Gandhi. We promote Gandhian Nationalism. The anti-nationals are those who resort to violence to get their way.
Professors, teachers, men and women of good will must unite and stop mobocracy from taking hold. We must be sensitive to the right formation of our students and make sure that they abide by the rule of law.
Let us work to build the country together. Let us encourage the culture of love and dispel the forces of darkness and hatred.
As far as the demand of the fundamentalist right wing is concerned that the worship of Bharat Mata be imposed on every institution and on every individual, it should be made clear.
Nationalism is defined by our Constitution and no one has the right to call others anti-national or non-patriotic based on one’s whims and fancies. This is a free country and let nationalism be decided by the rule of law.
We have duly elected Governments to maintain law and order and to enforce the rule of law. The Central Government, the State Government and the Vidisha Administration along with the State and Local Police have demonstrated beautifully on 4th January, 2018, the political will to enforce the rule of law. No individual or institutions can be placed at the mercy of mobs who wish to impose their own rules and regulations.
The Bishop had a special word of thanks and appreciation for the disciplined police force, for the authorities both at the state and national level who protected the Institution and students and more importantly asserted that goondaism, hooliganism and indiscipline will not be allowed to hold sway.
After listening to the Bishop, the teachers and professors through various interventions unanimously appreciated the stand taken by Fr. Shaju and the College management. They declared that no mob, no group can be allowed to impose its will on the management and individuals. What is legal and illegal has to be decided by the Constitution not by the stray organizations and individuals.
The staff also expressed their concern for the safety of the Fathers, Sisters and the institutions and hoped the Government Administration and Police would continue to stand by the institution as they did earlier.
Fr. Biju Thottankara thanked Bishop Theodore for addressing the meeting and congratulated Fr. Shaju, the Fathers, Sisters and the Staff for their courageous behaviour on the 30th December and 4th January.
At this point it is good to mention that the ABVP along with the Sanathan Dharma has announced a fresh assault on St. Mary’s College on 16th January 2018. After St. Mary’s College, some people have now come to Nirmala Convent School in the district of Vidisha and to another Catholic Institution Puspha Vidhyalaya, Sivani in Raisen District and threatened that they would perform Aarti of Bharat Mata inside the School Campus. Once again we have sought police protection.
But as Bishop Theodore says, someone has to bell the cat and this spread of hatred, fundamentalism and mob violence has to stop. This country is too great a country with its long tradition of peaceful harmonious living and we are happy that our Union Minister Shri Rajnath Singh and the administration at all levels has stood by the Constitutional values.
As Bishop Theodore left for Bhopal on his way to the Airport Fr. Shaju, the Fathers and Sisters thanked the Bishop very profusely for standing by them in this difficult time. Fr. Shaju told Bishop that they were totally demoralized but after the Secretary General’s visit they felt encouraged and stronger. The Secretary General assured then all help from the CBCI and promised them that while they continue to take the help of the State and local administrations and Police, he would approach the Central Government authorities for all help.
Fr. Shaju Devassy
Director, St. Mary’s PG College
Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh
7th January 2018.