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Indian priest arrested for child abuse

Christians discount the charge as an attempt to tarnish the image of the community in the pro-Hindu ruled state

Indian priest arrested for child abuse

Catholic Father Leo D'Souza (in the middle) is taken by police after he was accused of sexually abusing a school student. Local Christians suspect he was framed in the case to tarnish the image of church and the reputation of the school. (Photo supplied)

Christian leaders say that a Catholic priest arrested for abusing a child in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been framed to malign the Christian community in the state ruled by a pro-Hindu party.

Police July 10 arrested Father Leo D'Souza, 56, following a complaint from the parents of an eighth-grade boy of the church-run Amar Jyoti School in the tribal-dominated district of Dindori.

The priest is manager of the school run by Jabalpur Diocese.

The parents in their complaint said the priest summoned the boy to his room July 9 evening and tried to abuse him.

Local church leaders say police arrested the priest even without a preliminary investigation. They say it was an attempt to tarnish the image of Christians that run the school ranked among the three best in the district.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur said the accusation and the arrest has "shocked" the diocese. He said hard-line Hindu groups had earlier tried to create trouble for Christians accusing them of converting tribal people to Christianity.

Madhya Pradesh state law restricts religious conversions and makes it a criminal offense for anyone to change religion through force, allurement or through fraudulent means. Changing one's religion without informing the government is also a punishable offense, according to the law.

"Such hatred could be one reason for this heinous charge," he said.

"We have no idea what happened and who is right and who is wrong," the bishop said adding that the boy, who complained against the priest, joined the school only 10 days ago.

"We have hostels for boys and girls and there has never been any such complaint," the bishop said.

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District police Superintendent Simala Prasad told ucanews.com that the priest "faces charges" under the non-bailable section of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences. He is accused of touching the body of a child with sexual intent and of "illegal confinement" of an individual. If proved of charges, the priest faces jail term for up to five years and fines.

The police officer said, "a clear picture will emerge only after a proper probe."

"We also will take statements from other children to ascertain if the accused is a habitual offender," she said.

Aman Singh Porthe, a local resident and leader of the Gondwana Ganatantra Party, a tribal political organization, told ucanews.com that he suspects the arrest was part of "a conspiracy to target the Christian school doing well in the area."

Arresting the priest even without a preliminary investigation "is a clear indication" that the priest was "trapped at the behest of right-wing Hindu activists," he said.

The Christians in the state have complained of hundreds of cases of violence against them including rape and murder at the hands of hard-line Hindu groups who work to make India a Hindu nation.

Their political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party, that runs the state government tacitly supports the violence with police taking the side of such groups, Christian leaders say.

Earlier, Richard James, public relations officer for the Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, a Christian forum in the state, said "police are hand in glove with the right-wing Hindu activists."

Together, they "have been unleashing a reign of terror against minority groups, especially Christians" ever since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in the state 13 years ago, he said.

Christians make up 0.3 percent of some 73 million people in Madhya Pradesh.

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