Hindu extremists beat eight priests and burned their vehicle outside a central Indian police station.
Ucanews.com reported the victims had been trying to help 30 seminarians and two priests arrested on December 14 for allegedly trying to convert non-Christians.
Trouble started when the seminarians from St Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna went to a local village to sing Christmas carols.
Fr George Mangalappally said that as they were singing, an angry mob started shouting slogans against what they regarded as conversion activities.
“One of them called police and demanded action against us,” Fr Mangalappally said.
A police officer, on condition of anonymity, stated that after the carolers were arrested and charged, they were kept in protective custody because of fears they would be attacked if released immediately.
Fr Anish Emmanuel was among those who went to the police station to aid the carolers.
However, about 100 Hindus attacked them in the police compound, Fr Emmanuel said.
“We were beaten up in front of the police, but they did nothing,” he said. “They set our vehicle on fire, forcing us to take shelter inside the police station.”
Fr Maria Stephen, a spokesperson for the regional bishops’ council, said this kind of attack raised serious questions about a lack of religious freedom in predominantly Hindu India.
The Catholics were detained on charges of violating a state law that makes it a criminal offense to attempt to convert anyone using fraud, inducement or allurement.
Bishop Joseph Kodakallil of Satna told ucanews.com that a villager had falsely claimed he was offered 5,000 rupees (US$65) to convert to Christianity.
He said missioners in the diocese had been experiencing hostility for the past two years.
Overall, more than 650 attacks on minority Christians have been reported in the Hindu-majority nation so far in 2017.