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Lucknow: BJP activists attack convent

By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
September 10, 2006 21:14 IST
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At least 30 or 40 activists of the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party stormed into Lucknow's Loreto Convent school Sunday evening, resorting to vandalism and intimidating helpless nuns living on the campus.

Even though the violence lasted only about 15 minutes, window panes of offices and the school chapel were broken, flower pots were smashed and the activists threatened the nuns with dire consequences. They raised slogans against the 135-year old school for allowing a man to claim he had turned 'divine' as Lord Jesus had 'descended' into his body .

The Association of Catholic Educational Institutions has decided to keep all its schools closed on Monday as a mark of protest against the attack, association secretary Father Paul Rodrigues told mediapersons.

The incident took place in Lucknow protected VIP area, a stone's throw from the official residences of both the Uttar Pradesh Governor and the chief minister.

The attackers carried placards and posters, condemning the school and accused the principal of 'forcing' students to participate in religious rituals, allegedly with the intent of luring them into Christianity – a charge vociferously refuted by the school authorities, students and parents alike.

The nuns, who live on the campus without even a single security personnel, were taken by surprise when a group of 30  or 40 young men carrying BJP fags broke into the locked gates of the school and began damaging the property.

The institution's Sister Superior, Sister Tressia told mediapersons, "Initially I rushed out and appealed to them with folded hands not to indulge in violence, but then some of them attempted to charge at me, so I hurriedly rushed inside, bolted the door and then called up the police."

She said, "They then started smashing the glass panes on doors and windows with wooden rods and stones and also flung our flower-pots on to the window panes of the school chapel. Fortunately the police arrived on the scene following which they ran away and we were spared."

Reacting to controversy over a prayer meeting in which a special invitee of the school created a 'miraculous appearance' of Lord Jesus Christ on September 6, school principal Sister Tressia said, "There was nothing shady about that special assembly."

She said, "It was one of our spiritual assemblies where our aim is to let the children have an experience of God; and here was this man with divine powers, who was brought by a parish priest from West Bengal to provide that experience."

She clarified, "Participation in the assembly was absolutely optional and we had made it clear to all students and teachers that they were free to leave if they so desired."

However, she admitted, 'probably on account of the shock, one or two girls fainted, but they were revived soon and even their parents have no complaint on that count'.

She named the 'divine' person as Nobo Kumar Mandal.

"A rickshaw-puller until about seven years ago, Mandal acquired miraculous healing powers with which he not only cured his own kidney failure, but also thousands of people who visit his center in a rural pocket of Krishnanagar in West Bengal. He came here with Father Sebastian, a well known parish priest from Murshidabad," the Sister Superior disclosed.

"Since he was so widely known for his great powers, we thought our students too could share the experience," she said, while emphasising, "After all ,besides providing formal education and emotional development, our institution's objective is to also promote spiritual development of the students, which we are free to do in our own way. It is not binding on any student to follow our religious preaching."

Earlier in the day, when contacted over his mobile phone, Father Sebastian spoke to this reporter from Murshidabad. "Well, I fail to understand why you all are suspicious," he said. 

Describing Mandal as 'divine' and the 'chosen one of the Lord', he said, "Mandal really has miraculous healing powers; you have to see to believe that Lord Jesus actually descends on him to bless those who seek his blessings."

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow