Police in India's central state of Madhya Pradesh arrested 30 seminary students and two priests as they were singing Christmas carols in a village. The Christians were also roughed up by Hindu nationalists, who also burned down a car belonging to the priests while police allegedly looked on.
The carol singers, who are from St. Ephrem's Theological College in Satna district in the state of Madhya Pradesh, were arrested from Dara Kalan village Thursday night "as they were conducting a routine Christmas carol singing programme which has been the practice during the Christmas season for the last 30 years," according to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.
The CBCI condemned the "complicity of the police who arrested the seminarians and stood by helplessly as the priests and seminarians were assaulted."
Eight priests who later went to inquire about the detained priests and seminarians were also taken into custody, CBCI says in a statement, adding that the situation outside the police station in Satna "was allowed to be so hostile that even those who wanted to approach the detained persons could get no access to them."
The "goons" also torched the vehicle of the priests, the statement says.
A member of the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist group associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party, had accused members of the seminary of distributing the Bible, photos of Jesus Christ and singing carols, according to Huffington Post.
"We were only singing carols, but the hardline Hindus attacked us and said we were on a mission to make India a Christian nation ... that's not true," Anish Emmanuel, a seminary member, was quoted as saying.
CBCI called the accusation of conversion "frivolous and laughable."
"All right thinking Indians will hang their heads in shame at these terrorists who have taken on the garb of 'religious police,'" the bishops said. "We are absolutely sure that they do not speak in the name of our very broad minded and peace loving Hindu brethren."
The seminary students and priests were later released after a local politician intervened, according to the British Asian Christian Association, whose chairman said, "This alarming incident, so near to Christmas, is evidence of the deepening level of animosity for minorities in India under the Narendra Modi regime."
Christian persecution has steeply risen in India since the Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party won the general election in 2014.
The first quarter of 2017 saw 248 incidents of persecution, and by the end of June, the number grew to 410, a recent report by Open Doors said, noting that a total of 441 incidents were reported in all of 2016.
"When the Christians are beaten by the extremists, they receive injuries mostly on their heads or their vital body parts," a local partner of Open Doors was quoted as saying in the report. "The assaulters do not care if the person dies in the attack. They know that they will not be punished because the government (and hence the judiciary) will take their side. In most of the cases the assaulters go unpunished."