Staff members belonging to Vishwa Mandal Sevashram, Sirpur in Dhulia district of Maharashtra on an educational tour of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa, were assaulted at Sangli in the Nizamuddin-Vasco Goa express.
Suspecting them as missionaries who were taking a group for conversion, about 15 right wing activists barged inside the bogie at Sangli and assaulted them. Some of them received minor injuries, while a teacher in the group received head injuries.
Anticipating further escalation of tension, Belagavi police on Tuesday morning sent the group back to Sirpur. A priest and a nun belonging to the educational institution accompanied the group from Sirpur.
Gunilal Resla Pawara (42), a teacher who received head injuries, said the incident took place as they were travelling by Goa Express to reach Belagavi on January 16.
The group had plans to visit Mahalaxmi Temple and Kaneri Math in Kolhapur and some temples and places of religious tourist interest in Belagavi and Goa and later return on January 20 from Goa by the Goa Express.
“Our group comprising 24 men and 14 women were aboard the train in separate bogies. When the train reached Sangli station at around 9.30 pm, about 15 men barged inside the bogie and started abusing and assaulting us stating that we are on a conversion tour,” said Gunilal.
“They were not in the mood of listening though we told them that we are on an educational tour and kept on beating us. One of them hit me with his steel kada (steel hand ring) on my head after which I started bleeding.”
“This went on for over 20 minutes and when the train reached Miraj, the police entered the bogie after which the assailants escaped,” said Gunilal, showing the head injuries while blood stains were seen on his shirt.
There was more trauma in store for the group member once they alighted at Belagavi Railway station at around 1 am on Tuesday.
While the Belagavi police was waiting at the station and enquiring with the group, two youngsters reportedly belonging to a right wing group whisked away Bansilal, a teacher and threatened him to say that they were being brought for conversion.
“They whisked me away from the group and at the point of knife forced me confess that we were brought for conversion to make a video, which I strongly denied, after which they left me where the group was and vanished in the dark of night,” Bansilal said.
The group was later taken to a dormitory in the St Paul’s Junior College campus. After giving the protection overnight, the police arranged a KSRTC bus on Tuesday morning and sent the group back to Sirpur.
“There were rumours making rounds in the city and hence to avoid any further escalation, we requested the group to return,” said a police source.
However, questions are being raised as to why the group was forced to return.
Meanwhile, Bishop of Belgaum Derek Fernandes has condemned the act of the vandals and has expressed shock.
“I am shocked to hear about the incident which should not have happened in a democratic country like us. It’s a very bad act and I urge the police to take up seriously and act against the assailants and bring them to book,” said Bishop Fernandes.
Meanwhile, the VHP and Bajrang Dal late Tuesday evening filed a complaint against the organisers of the educational tour claiming that the tour was an attempt at conversion. Police is investigating the matter.