In the western Indian state of Maharashtra, a mob of suspected Hindu nationalists attacked the Christian principal of a private high school, alleging he asked his students to recite a Christian prayer.
The incident took place at the D. Y. Patil High School in the Ambi village of Talegaon Dabhade, on the outskirts of the city of Pune on Tuesday, according to media reports.
The mob, composed of agitated parents and suspected activists from the Hindu nationalist organizations Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, launched their attack against Principal Alexander Reid, UCA News reported.
A video that went viral the following day showed Reid being brutally beaten by the mob, who chanted “Har Har Mahadev” (hail Lord Shiva) as they chased and assaulted him on the school campus, leaving his clothes torn.
Local law enforcement, led by Police Inspector Ranjit Sawant, has begun an investigation into the incident. Despite this, neither the school nor Reid has lodged a formal complaint against those involved in the assault.
“Only some parents have given us a complaint against the principal and we have not yet filed a case against anyone,” Sawant was quoted as saying on Friday. “We will take preventive action against those who assaulted the principal.”
The Christian prayer in question, according to Sawant, is a general prayer containing the phrase “Dear Lord,” a detail also printed in the school diary carried by students. “But that does not refer to a Christian God,” Sawant said. He contradicted the parents’ allegations that the prayer was derived from the Bible, stating there was no connection to be found.
Further adding to the melee, some parents have alleged the school had installed a CCTV camera in the girls’ washroom.
According to Sawant, the CCTV camera is not located inside any washroom but rather in a common area near the washbasin. These allegations led a group of parents and activists to enter the school premises to verify the location of the camera. Upon encountering the principal, they proceeded to assault him.
Currently, the school has 1,341 enrolled students from nursery to Class XII and is temporarily closed until further notice.
The Free Press Journal newspaper quoted Reid expressing his innocence, saying, “The management is on my side, they have asked me to hold on for a couple of days before saying anything about the matter. They will take care of me, I have nothing to fear.”
Reid, who founded the school six years ago, expressed confusion over why the issue arose now. He further explained his decision not to lodge a complaint against his attackers, stating, “I am not that kind of person to go against my own people. I am very positive about this matter.”
An unnamed official from the Talegaon police station stated that Reid was known to be a “strict teacher,” and some parents were keen to confront him, according to Radio Veritas Asia.
The official and Inspector Sawant both suggested that the attack was pre-planned.
Sawant lamented the miscommunication and escalation, stating, “Hindutva activists and parents twisted this (the CCTV camera) into something perverse. They claimed cameras had been set up inside the toilet. Which is untrue.” Following the objections, the school management agreed to remove the cameras.
The group Release International has predicted that persecution is likely to increase in India, where radical Hindus appear increasingly emboldened by the dominance of the nation’s Bharatiya Janata Party government.
Religious freedom conditions in India have drastically deteriorated in recent years following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rise of the BJP in 2014, a report by the group said.
Christians comprise only 2.3% of India’s population, and Hindus account for about 80%.
Open Doors USA, an organization that monitors persecution in over 60 countries, ranks India as the 10th-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.
The organization reports that “Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence.”
“The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence," an Open Doors factsheet on India reads.
“This is leading to a systemic, and often violent and carefully orchestrated, targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.”