Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday deplored the remarks made by Union minister Piyush Goyal that there had been no attack on a group of nuns during a train journey in Uttar Pradesh, and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of spewing “an utter lie”, PTI reported.

On March 24, four nuns from Kerala were forced to get off a train by the railway police in Jhansi for interrogation, after members of Hindutva group Bajrang Dal accused them of forceful religious conversions. A purported video of the incident, which was widely circulated on social media on the same day, showed a group of men interrogating two postulants who were travelling with the nuns.

When one of the postulants told them that she was born a Christian and had not been forced into converting, the men accused the girl of lying. The men also forced the postulants to show their Aadhaar cards and other identity proof.

However, Goyal on Monday rejected the charge that the nuns were attacked, and accused Vijayan of “making false statements” on the matter. “There was no attack on any nun whatsoever...the chief minister of the state [Kerala] is completely lying and making false statements when he says that,” the minister had said at a press conference in Kochi.

Vijayan in return castigated Goyal for claiming that he was lying, and accused the BJP leader of trying to cover up for the culprits. “They [nuns] had been attacked in a country, where one has all the rights to travel freely, for the sole reason that they were nuns,” the chief minister told reporters on Tuesday in Kasargod. “The action is shameful.”

He said the fact that a Union minister was justifying an attack on nuns, was “evidence of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] agenda” being implemented by the Centre. “This shows that the minorities and those who want democracy in this country were not safe under the central rule,” Vijayan added.

The chief minister said the attacks on the nuns was similar to the attacks on Muslims in the name of cow slaughter. “There was a lot of protest across the country against the attack on muslims in the name of beef,” Vijayan added. “Have they [Hindutva leaders] changed? No. When they found some nuns, they attacked them.”

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‘BJP fully encourages this behaviour’: Priyanka Gandhi

Meanwhile, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi too accused the BJP of doing nothing about the harassment faced by the nuns, saying that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had condemned the incident only because elections were around the coroner. Shah had promised action in the case while speaking in Kanjirappally district on March 21.

“It’s election time. That’s why when the sisters [nuns] were taken off a train in Jhansi and harassed by their own people, the Union minister made a comment saying it’s wrong,” Gandhi said at a rally in Karunagapally in Kollam district, according to PTI. “The rest of the time, they fully encouraged this sort of behaviour.”

Gandhi added, “They [the nuns] were pulled out of the train, they were afraid and there was nobody to protect them. When the BJP and the RSS make hollow statements about protecting women, it’s a farce because they don’t respect women.”

She wondered who gave the “BJP youth wing” permission or the authority to harass the women. “Who gave them the right to check the identity papers of the Nuns and two girls with them,” Gandhi added. “Who allowed them to ask what their religion was? Are we to believe that in our country women cannot take a train without being harassed by someone and she is answerable to some goons about what she stands for and what she believes in?”

Gandhi said that except during election season, BJP leaders spend “all their time telling women what to wear, how to dress, how to work, where to go and how to go there”.

“Their ministers comment on women’s jeans,” she added, referring to Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat for his comments on women wearing ripped jeans. “One of their ministers said there should be a law that when women leave their districts, they should register with the police.”