Telangana Catholic school attack: Activists say WhatsApp texts triggered violence

On April 16, a Hindutva mob attacked a school run by a Catholic management, alleging that they did not allow three students wearing saffron attire as part of Hanuman Deeksha to attend classes.
Hindutva mob attacked Mother Teresa English Medium School run by a Catholic management in Mancherial
Hindutva mob attacked Mother Teresa English Medium School run by a Catholic management in Mancherial
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An independent fact-finding committee has found that WhatsApp messages alleging that the Christian school in Telangana obstructed Hindu rituals were circulated prior to the attack on the school on April 16. The texts reportedly alleged that the Mother Teresa English Medium School’s Catholic management forced students to take off their saffron attire worn as part of Hanuman Deeksha. The school is located in Luxettipet of Kannepalli village in Mancherial district.

According to the committee’s report, disinformation that three students observing Hanuman Deeksha were not allowed to sit for exams and that the principal forcefully tried to remove their malas was spread through WhatsApp messages. A Hanuman Deeksha is a ritual observed for 41 days before visiting a temple. This triggered a violent attack against the school on April 16 by an angry mob of about 300 men dressed in saffron and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. 

The fact-finding committee consisted of independent social activists Khalida Parveen, Sarah Mathews, Kaneez Fathima, and SQ Masood. According to Masood, who is the co-founder of ASEEM, an NGO that works for the rights of marginalised communities, the activists “have been conducting fact findings of similar incidents for many years. We go on our own initiative to bring out facts of the matter to ensure that justice is delivered.” 

The committee’s report said that around 15 students observing Hanuman Deeksha were asked to inform the school’s office if they were going to wear the saffron clothes for some more days.

“There was no attempt to forcefully remove the Hanuman malas nor were they stopped from writing the exam. The management has proof of these students writing exams,” the report said. However, the report said that the school had not been informed ahead of time by three of the students that they would be observing Hanuman Deeksha. They were hence not allowed to enter school on April 16.  When they were told that they should seek permission from the school authorities to wear the saffron attire, the parent of one of the students took offence and created the issue that later snowballed into the mob attack.

A parent of a former student who had been expelled from the school last year for disciplinary reasons was found to be the main instigator who circulated the WhatsApp messages. The former student, who is currently enrolled in another school, was part of the mob that vandalised the school. “The parent abused the school management for being ‘anti-Hindu’. His son … was expelled last year for misconduct. The same student, who is enrolled in another local school in class 10, was identified as vandalising the school property,” said the report. 

Allam Narender, Inspector of Police, Luxettipet, informed the committee that the trouble began after the WhatsApp messages were circulated. 

Following this, a mob assembled at the school around 8 am on April 16. People observing deeksha at the two Hanuman temples in the vicinity also joined the mob. The mob assaulted the school principal Jaimon Joseph, forced him to wear a saffron scarf and forcibly applied vermillion on him. They vandalised the property and forced the principal to issue a public apology through a microphone. The mob also hurled stones at the Mother Teresa statue at the entrance of the school.

The mob then entered Kannepalli and forcefully closed meat shops owned by Muslims.

Read: Telangana: Hindu mob attacks Catholic school, forces principal to chant Jai Shri Ram

The activists visited the school on April 20 and found that paramilitary forces and the local police were deployed at the premises. “We saw students wearing deeksha clothes at the school when we visited. They had sought permission from the management. Among the parents of the three students who were not allowed to attend school and appear for exams, only one had an issue. Most of the parents support the school management and believe that the attack was wrong,” SQ Masood said. 

According to the committee report, Jaimon Joseph, who is a Catholic priest, performs the additional duty of school manager. “The manager apologised but he was taken to the terrace and made to apologise on a microphone and chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ after the crowd demanded a public apology,” the report said. 

The police had registered an FIR against the school management under sections 153 A (promoting enmity on religious grounds) and 295 A (intention of outraging religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code. Another FIR has been registered against the mob under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs 50), 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 506 (criminal intimidation), 143 (unlawful assembly) read with 149 (every member of an unlawful assembly guilty of an offence committed in furtherance of a common object) of the Indian Penal Code.

The fact-finding committee demanded that the FIR registered against the school be withdrawn as prime facie there is no such act done by the management as claimed by the mob and the attackers be arrested immediately. They said that the school management should be compensated for the vandalism and abuse. 

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