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Indian bishop seeks president's help for arrested priest

Police working under pressure from extremist groups, prelate alleges

ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal

ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal

Published: October 19, 2015 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: October 20, 2015 07:09 PM GMT

Indian bishop seeks president's help for arrested priest

A Catholic bishop has sought the intervention of Indian president Pranab Mukherjee to look into a case in Chhattisgarh state where a priest was accused of allegedly raping a fourth-grade student.

Bishop Patras Minj of Ambikapur wrote to Mukherjee pleading for him to initiate a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigations into the sex charges leveled against Father Joseph Dhanaswami, 44.

The state police are "working under pressure from extremist groups and political parties," Bishop Minj said in his Oct. 17 letter. Chhattisgarh state in central India is run by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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Father Dhanaswami, principal of Jyoti Mission High School of Ambikapur Diocese in Chhattisgarh state, along with hostel warden Samaritan Sister Christ Maria and a maid were arrested Sept. 11 following a complaint by the mother of a fourth-grade student.

Sister Christ Maria was released on bail, but Father Dhanaswami and the maid remained in jail as their bail applications were rejected.

Bishop Minj told ucanews.com that the priest initially was charged with child abuse, but the charge was changed to rape "without any material proof."

According to church officials, the girl was staying in the church-run hostel and was suffering from a skin disease that infected her genitals. Her mother and local groups blamed church workers for harming the child.

The bishop in his letter to the president said that on Oct. 15 a medical team conducted a potency test on the priest, forcing him to masturbate. But their efforts to collect his semen failed, according to the letter.

"The priest being a celibate, the sexual acts that he was made to perform in jail were sins, according to the church," the bishop said.

Vicar General Father Antony Bara told ucanews.com that Bishop Minj approached the president because the case is "evidently framed with some ulterior motives."

Father Barra noted several irregularities in the investigation, including having the charges changed from rape to child abuse and back to rape, changing the investigating officers and questioning the priest without the presence of his lawyer, as allowed by law. The priest also was forced to sign several documents without reading them beforehand, he said.

"The case is totally fabricated and we see no possibility of getting justice," he said.

Police Superintendent B.S. Dhruv of Korea district told ucanews.com there was "no question of doing any foul play in the investigation." He declined to offer further details but said "it is a matter involving a child, and we are on our job."

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