UCA News

Plot suspected in sex claims against Indian school principal

Case is fabricated and a ploy to malign the school by rightwing Hindu groups, local leaders say
Students and parents stage a protest against the arrest of the principal of the Church-run JDES Higher Secondary School in Madhya Pradesh state in India

Activists and members representing the Christian community take part in a peaceful protest rally against an increase in hostility, hate, and violence against Christians in various states of the country, in New Delhi on Feb. 19. (Photo: Arun Sankar / AFP)

Published: March 09, 2023 07:29 AM GMT
Updated: March 09, 2023 11:49 AM GMT

Police in central India have re-arrested a lay Catholic school principal accused of sexually assaulting young girls, which local people say is part of a conspiracy to deny education to tribal people.

Nam Singh Yadav was arrested and detained in judicial custody on March 7, three days after he and three others — a Catholic nun, priest and another lay male teacher — were accused of violating the rights of children.

The complaint was registered with police in Dindori district, a predominantly indigenous district in Madhya Pradesh state.

Yadav was first taken into police custody on March 4 after officials from the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights inspected the Jabalpur Diocesan Education Society Higher Secondary School and its hostel in the district’s Junwani village.

The police complaint, filed by the district’s Child Welfare Committee, accused the principal and others of violating the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The complaint accused the nun of beating up the girls, and the male teacher of physically assaulting boys. The principal is accused of inappropriately touching eight girls. But no specific charge was leveled against the priest, the school manager.

Yadav was released a day after his arrest following protests from students and their parents demanding his release. They shouted slogans saying the charges against Yadav and others were “fake and part of a conspiracy.”

Hindu groups do not like the popularity of Christian schools among indigenous people.

Yadav was arrested again on March 7, following the intervention of Priyank Kanoongo, the chairman of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, according to local reports. The police inspector, who previously released Yadav, was also suspended.

Police told local media that they were continuing a manhunt for the arrest of other accused.

Local tribal leaders, including Christians, say the child rights officials target Christian schools and orphanages as part of a plot to tarnish Christian institutions and deny educational facilities to indigenous people.

“This is a clear case of conspiracy against the Church-run school that has been providing quality education to our children”, says Aman Singh Porthe, state president of the indigenous political outfit, Gondwana Ganatantra Party.

Porthe, who follows animist Gondi religion, said he and another leader of the party, were accused of obstructing government officials from discharging their duty in a separate case.

“It was for voicing the concerns of the parents and their children studying in the Catholic school,” he said.

“Our children who studied in such Church-run schools and hostels received a good quality education. Many even succeeded in cracking India’s toughest civil service examination and other competitive examinations and progressed in their lives”, Porthe told UCA News on March 8.

He said right-wing Hindu groups, backed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella group of Hindu nationalist outfits, do not like the popularity of Christian schools, particularly in indigenous areas.

"The world does not understand this deep-rooted conspiracy to push us backward."

Hindu groups fear education will lead to indigenous people rejecting the caste-based Hindu religion, which treats indigenous people as outcasts with contempt.

“This they believe will lead to the collapse of the upper caste Hindu hegemony they try to establish. So they file false cases often aiming to tarnish Christian missionaries and their schools,” Porthe said.

Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is the political arm of the RSS that works for Hindu pride and promotes Hindu religious ideologies in all spheres of life in India. 

Porthe said pro-Hindu leaders “want to educate their children in missionary schools in cities but deny the same facility for poor indigenous people.”

“The world does not understand this deep-rooted conspiracy to push us backward. We will fight it,” the tribal leader asserted.

The diocesan-run higher secondary school in Junwani has been serving indigenous people since 1940. Currently, it has more than 600 students-boys and girls. The school also runs separate hostels for boys and girls.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur also denied the allegations against the principal and others as “baseless” and accused state officials of violating laws.

The child rights officials violated the laws when they “forced their way into the children’s hostel, especially the girls’ hostel, at night after seven,” Bishop Almeida told UCA News

“One girl allegedly said that the principal had touched her inappropriately and the officials took her and seven other girls with them,” he said alluding that the complaint from eight girls came later.

The prelate also said the child rights commission officials conducted a series of inspections in other church-run schools and hostels and took various types of documents, including admission data over the past week.

“We don’t exploit anyone. We try to provide the poor children with education and train them to become self-reliant and thus, each student becomes an asset to the nation,” the bishop asserted.

“We will fight it legally,” Almedia said and added: “Our stand will be vindicated in the court."

A Church official told UCA News that girls named in the complaint came to the hostel along with officials and took away their belongings on March 8.  

Christians make up 2.3 percent of the more than 1.4 billion people in India.

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