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Priests defending hospital charged with rioting

BHOPHAL (UCAN): Four Catholic priests have been charged with rioting and criminal intimidation in India’s Madhya Pradesh state over a land dispute involving a plot of land adjacent to the 44-year-old Pushpa Mission Hospital and a group of people from the Hindu, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who claim the plot is illegally occupied. 
Gagan Singh, assistant to the local BJP parliamentarian, led a mob to the site and claimed to be the owner of the public land. Tensions intensified after revenue officials arrived to measure and demarcate the area. A crowd also claimed a portion of the land.
Diocesan public relations officer, Father Antony Nirappel, recounted that attempts were made to demolish the boundary wall despite resistance from Church officials.
As priests and hospital staff formed a human shield to block a bulldozer and called the police, the mob began to throw stones at the hospital. They were dispersed when the police finally arrived.
“But soon we were informed that police have charged four of us with rioting and criminal intimidation of people,” said Father Nirappel, who is one of the accused.
Church officials say the charges are politically motivated.
“No one has been arrested yet,” an official of Madhav Nagar police station where the case was filed, insisted on February 1. 
Police are guarding the area to maintain the status quo after Singh threatened to organise a Hindu religious ritual to assert his ownership over the land.
Father Nirappel said it was “just another instance of harassment” in the state, where Christians regularly face violence and harassment at the hands of Hindu groups who want to make India a Hindu nation.
The accused include hospital director, Anthony Pulickamandapam, pointed out that the hospital has ownership documents for “every inch of land we possess” and a receipt from the civic body for paying mandatory fees to use the land.
“We do not know how an owner has suddenly come to claim public land,” said Father Nirappel, adding that they “only want a competent authority to certify its rightful owner.”
He called the matter part of a well-organised plan by Hindu groups to tarnish the image of Christians by portraying them as law-breakers.
From January to November 2017, there were witnessed 21 violent attacks on Christians and hundreds of cases of harassment, threats and intimidation by Hindu groups, according to data published by voluntary group Alliance Defending Freedom. 

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