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Priest bailed amid anti-Christian campaign in eastern India

But catechist still in jail as thousands demand arrests for attack on Jesuit college

ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal

ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal

Updated: September 17, 2019 09:58 AM GMT
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Priest bailed amid anti-Christian campaign in eastern India

Thousands of tribal Christians march Sept. 16 through the town of Sahibganj, Jharkhand state, demanding the arrest of vandals who attacked a Jesuit-run college Sept. 3. (Photos supplied).

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A court in Jharkhand state, eastern India, has granted bail to a Catholic priest, as some 3,000 mostly tribal people staged a protest demanding the arrest of vandals who attacked a church-run college.

Father V.J. Binoy and catechist Munna Hansda of Bhagalpur Diocese were arrested Sept. 7, in their Rajadah mission area of Godda district, accused of land-grabbing and engaging in forced religious conversions.

Father Binoy was admitted to a hospital immediately after his release Sept. 16 after complaining of nausea and general weakness, said Father N. M. Thomas, vicar general of Bhagalpur Diocese, to which the priest and catechist belong.

A mob of some 500 suspected Hindu hardliners vandalized the Jesuit-run St. John Berchmans College Sept. 3 and a hostel for tribal students attached to it in the town of Sahibganj.

The attackers were armed “with wooden sticks, iron rods, pipes, knives, pistols, bricks and stones,” said the college secretary, Father Thomas Kuzhively. “The irony is that almost a fortnight after the attack no action has been taken against the accused.”

The bigger, 'anti-Christian' picture

The targeting of Christians is part of a larger plan to tarnish missions in the villages that attract poor and illiterate people seeking education and healthcare, Christian leaders say.

Father Thomas said the case against Father Binoy and the catechist were “absolutely baseless but part of a plan.”

He said an anti-Christian campaign had been going on in the state since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power locally and nationally in 2014. The government is accused of supporting the Hindu groups orchestrating violence against Christians.

Father Thomas said lawyers of the diocese were “in the process” of getting the catechist out on bail. “We hope he will be out shortly,” he told ucanews.com.

Two others also face charges

Two villagers — village head Rameshwar Thakur, Hindu and Charlis Hansda, a Catholic — have been accused of the same offenses but have reportedly absconded.

The four have been accused of violating the state’s stringent anti-conversion law, which prohibits religious conversion through allurement or force and without informing government authorities.

They are also charged with several violations of the Indian Penal Code, including criminal intimidation of villagers, injuring or defiling places of worship, and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of others. 

They have also been accused of grabbing protected tribal land in violation of state laws that restrain a tribal person from selling his land to non-tribals.

Tribal people constitute 16 percent of the 32 million people in Jharkhand. The state has about 1.5 million Christians or 4.3 percent of the population, almost double the 2.3 percent figure for India as a whole.

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