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Indian Jesuit arrested in scarf controversy

Muslims outraged by priest who removed face covering

  • Ajit Paul, Ranchi
  • India
  • January 10, 2011
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A Jesuit priest in an eastern Indian state has been arrested for removing the face scarf of a Muslim female student.

Father Ephraim Baa, who is in charge of the Intermediate Section of St. Xavier’s College in Ranchi, Jharkhand, has apologized for his “inadvertent” action.

The incident occurred on Jan. 7 during a student protest against the college’s decision to charge for additional hours of teaching for weak students.

Father Baa was trying to pacify the demonstrators who had blocked the college gate.

The priest told ucanews.com he wanted to ensure the girl, who was shouting, was “from our college since many outsiders join such demonstrations.” He said the girl ignored several requests to show her identity card.

“Then I pulled the scarf from her face without knowing she was a Muslim. Otherwise I would not have touched her scarf," he said.

Muslims were outraged by pictures of the incident published in a local newspaper the next day.

Thousands of Muslims took to the streets and burnt Father Baa’s effigy. Apologies from the college and Father Baa failed to pacify the mob that burnt tires and damaged vehicles.

The Muslim girl, Neha Praween, appealed to the protestors to show restraint. She said she had no grudge against anyone. "Whatever has happened is unfortunate but I don’t want any violence in the city," she said.

Under pressure, the police arrested Father Baa on Jan. 8 on charges making assertions prejudicial to national integration and assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.

Meanwhile a Muslim cleric, Maulana Asgar Misbahi, has appealed to his people to maintain peace. “What has happened in prestigious St. Xavier’s College was unfortunate. Father Baa has asked pardon and there is no reason to prolong this issue,” he added.

Some Church leaders today decided to boycott the Prabhat Khabar (Morning News), the local paper that carried the priest’s photographs.

Jesuit Father Alex Ekka, who directs a social science institute, alleged the newspaper wanted to stoke enmity between Christians and Muslims, who maintain cordial relations in the city.

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