ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal
Updated: May 08, 2019 10:57 AM GMT
A file photo of Jharkhand Vikash Morcha activists demonstrating on June 22, 2018, against the June 19 abduction and gang rape of five women activists in Khunti district of India's Jharkhand state. (Photo from IANS)
A court in India’s Jharkhand state has convicted a Catholic priest of conspiring with six men to carry out the mass rape of five women and not reporting the crime to police.
Judge Rajesh Kumar of Khunti district convicted Jesuit Father Alphonse Aind on May 7. His sentence is expected to be announced on May 15, lawyers connected with the case said.
Government prosecutor Sushil Kumar Jaiswal said the court was convinced about Father Aind’s involvement in the rape conspiracy last June.
“Even though he had a mobile phone, he did not inform anyone, including the police, that the women had been kidnapped. He took no action after the survivors were brought back after being raped. The evidence produced by us in the court convinced the court,” he told media.
The priest, who was the principal of Jesuit-run Stockmann Memorial Middle School in remote Kochang village in Khunti Diocese, was sent to custody on June 22 last year, a day after the June 19 rape case was reported.
Jharkhand High Court had released the priest on bail on March 15.
Police charges against Father Aind included being part of a conspiracy, kidnapping, wrongful confinement, not reporting a crime and possessing and transmitting obscene material through digital platforms.
He was acquitted of possessing and transmitting obscene material, his provincial Father Joseph Marianus Kujur told ucanews.com
Father Aind has consistently denied the charges and church people believe the charges were fabricated amid a hostile atmosphere toward Christians in the state since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
Six men abducted and raped five young women who were staging a street play to create awareness among local indigenous people about the trafficking of women and children.
Police say the priest saved two Urseline nuns who were working with the abducted women.
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 rebellion against some state polices, which tribal leaders say aim to take away their land and resources in the name of development projects.
“We will appeal against the order in the state High Court and are sure the higher judiciary will clear the name of the priest from the fabricated charges against him,” Father Kujur told ucanews.com.
Father Aind has two cases registered against him linked with the same incident.
The second case, filed by Sanjay Sharma, 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.
Christian leaders say the case is part of a pro-Hindu strategy to disparage Christian leaders and their institutions in an effort to dissuade people from choosing to become Christians.
More than one million of the 32 million people in Jharkhand state are Christians, almost all tribal people. In Khunti district, 25 percent of the 532,000 people are estimated to be Christians.
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