A file photo of Jharkhand Vikash Morcha activists demonstrating June 22, 2018 against the June 19 abduction and gang-rape of five women activists in Khunti district of Jharkhand. The priest arrested in connection with case was released on bail March 15. (Photo from IANS)
The High Court in India’s Jharkhand state has granted bail to a Jesuit priest nine months after he was arrested in connection with the abduction and rape of five women.
Father Alphonse Aind was released from jail on March 15 after he met all the bail conditions set by the court in its bail order issued two days earlier.
The conditions include surrendering of his passport and regular attendance at the local court where his case is under trial. He also needs the court’s permission to move out of Khunti district. He was also asked to furnish a surety bond of 50,000 rupees (US$700).
“All the formalities and conditions were met,” said Father Mahendra Peter Tigga, who was assisting the Jesuit’s case.
Father Aind was held in Khunti prison following his arrest on June 22 last year in connection with the abduction and gang rape on five young female social workers from the campus of a school where he was the principal.
On June 19, six men on motorcycles allegedly abducted and raped five young women who were staging a street play at Jesuit-run Stockmann Memorial Middle School in Kochang village under Khunti Diocese.
The High Court on Feb. 7 had granted bail to Father Aind in the case which accused him of being part of a conspiracy in the mass rape.
However, he could not be released because Sanjay Sharma had filed a second case on June 21. It accused him of illegal omissions in reporting the case to police, administering a drug or poison with intent to commit an offense, criminal intimidation and fraudulent removal of property to prevent its seizure.
Jesuit Father Xavier Soreng, a social worker in the area, told ucanews.com that they had to file a supplementary application before the High Court on Feb. 22 with documentary support to show that release of the priest would not affect court proceedings.
Church officials say all the charges are fabricated amid a hostile atmosphere against Christians in the state since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
The alleged rape victims and two Urseline nuns who were not abducted were part of a team conducting an awareness program about the trafficking of girls at the invitation of Father Aind, who is also the local parish priest.
Police say the play angered the attackers because it expressed sentiments against Pathalgadi — a movement asserting tribal autonomy over villages as per provisions in the Indian constitution.
The movement has been projected as rebelling against some state polices which tribal leaders say aim to take away their land and resources in the name of development projects.
The Jharkhand government has termed the movement unlawful and BJP leaders have accused church groups of supporting such movements.
Father Soreng suspects these efforts aim to link church people with controversial movements and divide the state’s indigenous community ahead of the April general election.
Jharkhand has a large tribal Christian population who could be a deciding factor in the election in some areas.
More than one million of the 32 million people in the state are Christians, almost all tribal people. The Christian population is even stronger in Khunti district, where 25 percent of the 532,000 people are estimated to be Christians.
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