Indian priest accused of abetting gang rape seeks bail

Lawyer's move follows arrest of alleged mastermind behind abduction of five women from Jesuit-run school
Indian priest accused of abetting gang rape seeks bail

Indian National Congress party activists hold placards and shout slogans during a protest on June 23 against the abduction and gang rape of five women who were performing a play at a school in Jharkhand state. (Photo by AFP)

A Catholic priest accused of abetting the gang rape of five women has applied for bail after police arrested a person thought to be the mastermind behind the crime in eastern India.

Police have arrested John Jonas Tudu and claimed to have cracked the June 19 case of five women abducted from a Jesuit-run school and raped in a forest in Jharkhand state.

The women were taken from Stockmann Memorial Middle School in remote Kochang village in Khunti Diocese. Two nuns who were with the women were spared.

Police arrested school principal Father Alphonse Aind on June 22 and charged him with conspiracy, abetting abduction, gang rape, preparing obscene material and causing hurt. He has been held in jail while police investigated the crime.

"It's all false charges. The priest was nowhere at the crime scene of abduction or gang rape," said Jesuit Father Peter Martin, a lawyer who coordinates the team that moved a bail application on July 23 for the release of Father Aind.

The court in Khunti district set a hearing for Aug. 3.

"The case against Father Aind will not stand at the time of trial," Father Martin told ucanews.com. "When the person is not at the crime scene, how can he be held responsible? The police fabricated the charges."

He hopes the priest will be released from jail by the time of the trial.

Police have also arrested Balram Samad, who was wanted along with Tudu in connection with several crimes in the state.

According to police, both are part of the Pathalgadi movement for autonomy among tribal people that has clashed with police in Khunti and surrounding areas.

The women who were raped had been performing a street play that allegedly had negative references to the movement, which reportedly angered the men.

Meanwhile, hard-line Hindu groups and office bearers of the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been openly accusing Christians of being behind the abduction and gang rape.

They also accuse Christians of supporting the Pathalgadi movement, which involves tribal people demarcating their land with stones claiming freedom to govern the area as per their customs, rejecting the authority of federal or state governments.

The movement is "a conspiracy of Christians and their missionary institutions," Indresh Kumar, a leader of powerful Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), told media on July 23.

However, Christian leader Prabhakar Tirkey said the arrest of Tudu, who bears a Christian name, is unconvincing.

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"With this arrest, the government is trying its best to assert that Christians are behind the Pathalgadi movement," said Tirkey, national president of Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh (the national federation of Christians).

Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Bilung of Ranchi said Christians were being unnecessarily connected to the movement to tarnish the image of the church and keep people away from it.

Jharkhand has witnessed a series of arrests and searches in Christian institutions, including the arrest of a Missionaries of Charity nun on allegations of selling babies for adoption.

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