Cow slaughter and love jihad have ruled as the pet themes of campaign for Hindutva groups for some time now, but now, another old bogey â€“ religious conversion -- has come back with a vengeance and renewed vigour. At least two cases of attacks on minorities over alleged conversions have taken place in Madhya Pradesh, a BJP-ruled state since 2005, heading for polls in some months. The role of the administration and the police was partisan and unhelpful to the victims in both cases. Both incidents took place in Satna. Last week, a group of 30 seminarians and two Christian priests who were singing Christmas carols in a village near Satna were detained by the police after Bajrang Dal activists accused them of forcibly converting villagers. They were ill-treated at the police station and some of them were even manhandled. The policemen were on the side of the Bajrang Dal. The church authorities have said that the group had nothing to do with religious conversions and they were only singing carols as they have done in the past during Christmas season. Some weeks ago, a nun and four girls were made to get off a train at Satna station on suspicion that the girls were being taken away for conversion. They were actually Christians.
Madhya Pradesh has a stringent anti-conversion law, so conversions are not easy. But Christian organisations and priests and nuns are active in social and educational fields in the tribal and other backward areas. Hindutva groups have always opposed and harassed them and claimed that they were trying to convert people to Christianity. Priests, nuns and lay Christians have been attacked many times by Hindutva groups without any evidence to show that they were converting people. There have even been demands for arresting priests on charges of sedition and waging war against the country.
The authorities are often seen to be sympathetic to the attackers and vigilantes who take the law into their hands. The bad experience of the carol group is not a stray incident. It is typical of the ill-treatment and harassment that minorities are subjected to in BJP-ruled states. Threats and incidents of violence have increased in the recent past. These are used for political and electoral polarisation. As assembly elections near, and three-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan faces anti-incumbency, more such attacks may be staged to divide society as politicians seek to benefit from communal polarisation. But the state government will be failing in its duty if it does not protect the minorities and tries to shield and encourage those who harass them.