Tension prevailed in Jobat town in the district on Wednesday after members of two communities hurled stones at each other over alleged damage to saffron flags put up near a church and subsequent breaking of lamps at its gate by a mob of right-wing outfits, police said.
Police have arrested six persons, including three suspected members of right-wing organisations for allegedly damaging the flags put up near the church during Ram Navmi festival.
District unit BJP president Rakesh Agrawal and others have been booked on charges of rioting, defiling place of worship and misbehaving with women under Jobat police station area near here in the early hours today, on the complaints of a pastor of Zion Church and a woman.
“The trouble started around 9 pm last night when some people came to us with a complaint that Nirmal Raymond and his brother Nigam Raymond have damaged saffron flags which were put up during Hindu festival of Ram Navmi near the church,” Alirajpur district Additional Superintendent of Police Meena Chauhan told PTI.
The officer said the police immediately registered a case against the brothers and sent a Sub-Divisional Officer of Police (SDOP) to arrest them.
“But they (people) kept on accusing us that we are not taking action,” she said.
“While the SDOP was doing his duty in a colony opposite the church, a mob of 500-odd people of right-wing organisations reached the spot, following which the duo (Raymond brothers) hid themselves in fear after midnight. Their families locked them inside house,” Chauhan said.
She said stones were pelted by members of the two communities at each other.
Police then arrested Nirmal, Nigam and one Jitendra under various sections of IPC for obscene act, rioting, defiling place of worship and criminal intimidation.
Meanwhile, the mob broke two or three electricity lamps at the gate of the church before dispersing at around 2.30 am, the ASP said.
According to the officer, Mantu Choubey, Mahendra Rathore and Om Rathore, suspected to be associated with right-wing activists, were arrested.
“We have identified 16 people, including Agrawal, and booked them for rioting and other charges. We have arrested three persons who are believed to be members of right-wing organisations. As we don’t have enough evidence against Rakesh Agrawal, therefore we haven’t arrested him,” Chauhan said.
They are booked under sections 295 (injuring and defiling place of worship), 427 (mischief), 147 (rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of IPC, besides under section of 506 (criminal intimidation) on the complaint of a Christian woman, she added.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Ariel, the priest of the Church of India’s (CNI) Zion Parish, told PTI, “Activists of the RSS, BJP and Bajarang Dal, led by Agrawal, district BJP president and former district Shiv Sena chief, pelted stones at community members, misbehaved with our women and broke Church’s lamps.”
“Most shocking is that all this happened in front of the SDOP and police who stood there as mute spectators,” he claimed.
The pastor said members of his community did not damage the saffron flags. “Most probably they (flags) might have blown away due to wind,” he said. He also denied reports that the mob stormed the compound of the church and vandalised it.
Chauhan said the town was tense over the turn of events. “But we are trying our best to bring the situation under control,” she added.
Alirajpur is a tribal-dominated district bordering Gujarat.