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Church fights to release priest, nun jailed in India

Bail sought for priest accused of abetting gang rape and for nun charged with selling children
Church fights to release priest, nun jailed in India

Indian police gather on July 4 outside the premises of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity where a staff member and a nun worked before their arrest on child trafficking charges in Ranchi in India's Jharkhand state. (Photo by AFP)

Published: September 14, 2018 08:39 AM GMT
Updated: September 14, 2018 08:48 AM GMT

Church people in India are to ask Jharkhand state's High Court to give bail to a Catholic priest and a nun who remain in jail after lower courts refused to release them.

Jesuit Father Alphonse Aind was arrested on June 22 on charges of abetting the rape of five women, while Missionaries of Charity Sister Concilia was arrested on July 4 accused of selling children at an orphanage she managed.

Jesuit social activist Father Xavier Soreng said on Sept. 13 that bail would be sought for Father Aind soon.

A trial court in Khunti district rejected a bail application on Sept. 10 because the priest was associated with one of the main accused in the gang rape case and allegedly failed to stop the accused from abducting the women.

"These are fabricated charges. We are hopeful that the priest will get justice," Father Soreng told ucanews.com.

Church leaders claim that Father Aind, principal of Jesuit-run Stockmann Memorial Middle School in remote Kochang village in Khunti district, was framed because the state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tacitly support Hindu radical moves against Christians.

Five social activists staging a street play at the school were abducted and raped by a gang of six men on June 19, reportedly because the play's theme offended a tribal movement for autonomy in the region.

Father Aind faces serious criminal charges of conspiracy, abetment to abduction and gang rape and supporting anti-national activities.

The bail application for Sister Concilia was filed at the High Court on Sept. 6 after a lower court refused her bail on July 20.

"The case is yet to be listed for hearing," said Father Peter Martin, a lawyer and consultant in the case.

The nun is accused of selling children from an orphanage connected with a home for unwed mothers that her congregation runs in state capital Ranchi. She belongs to the congregation that St. Mother Teresa of Kolkota began in 1950.

Missionaries of Charity has admitted that a guard and a staff member colluded to sell a baby to a childless couple because the nun trusted a staff member.

The trusted staff member was given the responsibility of surrendering babies to the district child welfare center, which as a policy does not acknowledge the babies it receives. It left the nuns having no way to check if babies were surrendered.

"We know the nun is innocent and she will get justice from the High Court," Father Martin told ucanews.com

Violence and intimidation against Christians have increased since the BJP came to power in 2014, Christian leaders say.

Jharkhand's government last month ordered inquiries into 88 Christian non-governmental organizations that get foreign donations. A probe was also initiated against all homes run by Missionaries of Charity in the state.

The residence and office of 82-year-old Jesuit Father Stanislaus Lourdusamy were raided before he was accused of anti-national activities on Aug. 28 in the latest incident of harassment.

Auxiliary Bishop Telesphore Bilung of Ranchi said Hindu groups oppose Christian missionary work among the poor and tribal people.

They want to tarnish the image of the church and create an impression that Christian missioners are law breakers and criminals to keep people away from the church, he said.

Indigenous people constitute 16 percent of the 32 million people in Jharkhand. The state has about one million Christians or 4.3 percent of the population. Its Christian presence is almost double the 2.3 percent figure for India as a whole.

Christians are politically decisive in areas such as Khunti and it worries Hindu groups as state and federal elections are due early next year, Christian leaders says.

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