School children and villagers attend a village meeting following the abduction at gunpoint and gang-rape of five anti-trafficking women activists at a village some 90 kms south of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand State on June 22, 2018. A Jesuit priest has been one of five men convicted over the rapes. He plans to appeal against his conviction. (AFP photo)
A Jesuit priest plans to appeal against his conviction and life prison sentence in connection with a gang rape case in India's eastern Jharkhand state.
Judge Rajesh Kumar of the Khuti District Court on May 17 sentenced Father Alphonse Aind and five others to life imprisonment for raping five women social workers on June 19 last year.
"We fully trust the judiciary," Father Anand David Xalxo, Ranchi Archdiocesan public relations officer, told ucanews.com when stressing the priest's decision to decision to appeal in the state's High Court against both the conviction and punishment.
Father Aind was convicted for conspiracy and not reporting the crime of which he allegedly had full knowledge.
But Father Xalxo said the Jesuit priest, who is now in jail, had been "framed" for political reasons.
"We are with Father Aind and hopeful that he will come out clean from all the charges foisted on him," the spokesperson said.
Jesuit Father Xavier Soreng, a social worker based in the state capital, Ranchi, said that Christians, particularly priests and preachers, have been targeted ever since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in the state in 2014.
The case against Father Aind was part of an effort to "tarnish" the image of the Church and drive people away from it, Father Soreng said.
The priest, who was the principal of the Jesuit-run Stockmann Memorial Middle School in remote Kochang village in Khunti Diocese, was taken into custody on June 22 last year after the rape allegation was reported.
Jharkhand High Court released him on bail on March 15.
He was re-arrested soon after his conviction on May 7 and subsequently moved to a jail in Ranchi, Father Soreng said.
Father Aind has consistently denied the charges against him, which included being part of a conspiracy, kidnapping, wrongful confinement and not reporting a crime.
Eight people were accused in the case, and six of them were arrested while one allegedly absconded.
Another accused is a minor and his case has been sent to a juvenile court
Six men were found to have abducted and raped five young women who were staging a play in the school auditorium to create awareness among local indigenous people about the trafficking of women and children.
One of the accused, Baji Samad, in his statement to the court, said he knew the priest personally.
He also told the court that had the priest objected, they would not have abducted the women from the auditorium.
He told the police and the court that he had set free two nuns, who were working with the abducted women, under instructions from the priest.
Church groups have been supportive of tribal people in the state fighting various policies of the government, which tribal leaders say aim to take away their land and resources in the name of development projects.
Police say the play performed by the women angered the attackers because it expressed sentiments against the Pathalgadi movement that has been portrayed as a rebellion against some state policies.
The movement asserts tribal autonomy over villages as per provisions in the Indian constitution.
Christian leaders say the rape case is part of a pro-Hindu strategy to dissuade people from following Christian churches and groups.
More than one million of the 32 million population of Jharkhand state are Christian, almost all of them tribal people. In Khunti district, 25 percent of the 532,000 people are estimated to be Christians.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.