Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has frozen the bank accounts of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity (MoC) in West Bengal, the state’s political leader said, after Hindu right-wing groups attack Christmas celebrations.
Several Hindu vigilante groups disrupted Christmas mass in parts of India during the weekend, including Modi’s parliamentary constituency in the most populous Uttar Pradesh state before local elections in the coming months.
Hardline Hindu outfits affiliated to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have repeatedly accused the MoC of leading religious conversion programmes under the guise of charity by offering poor Hindus and tribal communities money, free education and shelter.
“Shocked to hear that (at) Christmas, Union Ministry FROZE ALL BANK ACCOUNTS of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India!” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, wrote in a tweet on Monday.
“Their 22,000 patients & employees have been left without food & medicines. While the law is paramount, humanitarian efforts must not be compromised,” said Banerjee, an opposition leader and vocal critic of the Modi government.
Nobel laureate Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who died in 1997, founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950.
Based in the eastern state of West Bengal, the MoC has more than 3,000 nuns worldwide who run hospices, community kitchens, schools, leper colonies and homes for abandoned children.
Officials at MoC were not immediately available for comment, while the federal home ministry said the government will issue a statement once an initial inquiry is completed.
“I urge the press to not mix financial irregularities of a charity group with religious sentiments … the decision to freeze accounts has nothing to do with Christianity,” an official said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Vicar General Dominic Gomes of the Archdiocese of Calcutta said the freeze of the West Bengal accounts was “a cruel Christmas gift to the poorest of the poor”.
Hate attacks on Christmas weekend
Since Modi came to power in 2014, right-wing Hindu groups have consolidated their position across states and launched hate attacks on religious minorities, saying their action is to prevent religious conversions.
Christians and other critics have said the justification of preventing conversions is false and note Christians represent only 2.3 percent of India’s 1.37 billion people, while Hindus are the overwhelming majority, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
Al Jazeera’s Pavni Mittal, reporting from New Delhi, said Christmas celebrations were disrupted during the weekend and last week, including the vandalising of a life-size statue of Jesus Christ at Ambala in Haryana, a northern state governed by Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP.
“This past Christmas, a statue of Jesus Christ was vandalised in northern India and in other parts of the country too. Churches reported Hindu mobs entering and disrupting their services,” she said as she covered a protest against religious attacks in the capital.
Mittal said a mob burned a model of Santa Claus and chanted slogans against Christmas celebrations and religious conversions on Saturday. Local media reports said the incident happened outside a church in Varanasi, Modi’s parliamentary constituency and one of Hinduism’s holiest cities.
Anoop Shramik, a social activist in Varanasi, told the Reuters news agency he saw about two dozen people burning the Santa Claus.
On Saturday, Christmas celebrations were also disrupted in Silchar in the northeastern state of Assam after men, claiming to be members of Bajrang Dal – a far-right group with close ties to the BJP – forced their way into a church, NDTV news channel reported.
Contacted by telephone, the federal and state governments declined to comment.
Several Indian states have passed or are considering anti-conversion laws that challenge freedom of belief and related rights that the Indian constitution guarantees to minorities.
Elias Vaz, national vice president of the All India Catholic Union, condemned the latest incidents.
“The strength of India is in its diversity and the people who have done this at Christmas are the real anti-nationals,” Vaz said.
Call for Muslim genocide
The freezing of MoC’s bank accounts and attacks on Christmas celebrations came only days after a controversial event was held in the Hindu holy city of Haridwar in northern India, where Hindu hardliners called for mass killings of minority Muslims.
The meeting was attended by at least one member of Modi’s BJP.
“Even if just a hundred of us become soldiers and kill two million of them (Muslims), we will be victorious… If you stand with this attitude only then will you able to protect ‘sanatan dharma’ (an absolute form of Hinduism),” one of the speakers said at the event.
Another delegate, Prabodhanand Giri, head of a far-right Hindu group who is often photographed with senior BJP members, called for a “cleansing” and for those present to be “ready to die or kill”.
Another said he had asked hotels from his state not to allow Christmas celebrations. The statement was met with cheers from the audience.
The police in Uttarakhand state said they have launched an investigation, but no arrests have been made 10 days after the event.
“On the weekend, several lawyers appealed to India’s Supreme Court to step in and take action against what they see as an attack on India’s unity and the lives of millions of fellow Muslim citizens,” Al Jazeera’s Mittal reported.