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Allahabad HC order on their side, Kaushambi group gathers to pray on Christmas eve


Written by Sarah Hafeez
| Kaushambi |
Published: December 25, 2017 5:20 am


Villagers pray on Christmas eve in Birner village, Kaushambi, on Sunday. Ritesh Shukla photo

After the Allahabad High Court directive over the celebration of festivals being each citizen’s fundamental right, a village in south Uttar Pradesh assembled on Christmas Eve, their first gathering in two months after Hindu right-wing groups forced authorities to disallow the community from gathering.

In Birner village, about 50 km from Allahabad, around 100 men and women from neighbouring villages have gathered for the first time since “Changai Sabha” (Goodness Meet) was stopped.

Right-wing groups had in October forced organisers of Divya Jyoti Eeshu Ashram, a Christian trust “seeking to eradicate ills of society like addiction and poverty”, to break up a Sunday Mass attended by over 200 people. “The RSS brought it to our notice. We went and broke up the meeting because (civic) elections were on and we had to ensure law and order,” sub-inspector Amitabh Singh said.

Besides breaking up the Sabha, the police also took into custody 22 people, including Ashram secretary Sanjay Singh, under Section 144 of CrPC. They were released later. But police did not allow the group to assemble even after the election results were announced, the Ashram members said.

“The right-wing groups made police close our Sabha in October. We have been holding the weekly Mass for many years now. We requested authorities to allow us to hold Mass for Christmas and we sent applications to the District Magistrate and police. But they did not give us permission, which is why we were forced to move the High Court,” said Sanjay Singh.

A two-member bench led by Chief Justice D B Bhosale on Friday observed that citizens of all faiths have the right to celebrate their festivals. The bench directed Kaushambi authorities and police to consider the applications of the Ashram. “Prima facie, we do not find any reason for the authority to refuse such a permission. We, therefore, deem it appropriate to direct the authority concerned to consider their application, on or before Monday,” it said.

In Kaushambi’s Sarai Akil police station, SHO Uma Shankar said, “In Kaushambi there are no Christians. And there are no churches. If Christmas has to be celebrated, it will be in a church, not in an open field. The people gathering here are not essentially Christians. They are poor backward people lured by money by these groups. That is why we stopped the meeting.”

While district magistrate Manish Kumar could not be contacted, SDM (Chail) Ashwani Kumar Srivastav on Sunday evening said permission to hold Mass for Christmas had been given to the Ashram. “We have cleared the application and permission to hold Christmas celebrations has been granted,” Srivastav said.

At a clearing in 70-year-old Hub Lal’s field lined with red and yellow china roses, villagers have gathered on Sunday afternoon. They sing the National Anthem, religious songs and hymns, raise their hands in prayer. Some also weep.

“Right-wing groups have been alleging we convert people, but everyone who is ill and sad comes here to become changa (well and good). And once they start praying to Eshu (Jesus), they become alright,” said Ashram member Raghvendra Kumar, a copy of the high court order in his hand.

A member leading the ceremony called the gathering to “pray for the nation, to improve its ties with its neighbouring countries such as China and Bangladesh, to keep all away from the menace of drugs and evil, and say a special prayer for the Allahabad High Court and the Chief Justice and all those who did them justice”.

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