1995-02-28 00:00:00

A Clarist nun, who worked to uplift women and tribals in Indore diocese in Madhya Pradesh state, central India, was stabbed to death on a bus Feb. 25, allegedly by people opposed to her work.

Sister Rani Maria, 40, a missioner from Kerala state, southern India, was stabbed over 50 times by hitmen of opponents to her work for tribals´ and women´s betterment and economic independence, according to Church sources.

"The Catholic community of India is shocked and grieved at the brutal murder," said a Catholic Bishop´s Conference of India (CBCI) message Feb. 26 to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.

The message from CBCI president Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry asked the state government for "immediate action against the culprits and adequate protection of religious personnel" working in Madhya Pradesh.

The nun, who worked in Udainagar-Mirzapur village in Dewas district, was on her way to Indore city, 800 kilometers south of New Delhi, on a vacation trip. She was to take a train from Indore to Ernakulam, Kerala, her home state.

According to Divine Word Bishop George M. Anathil of Indore, Sister Maria was a "socially active nun" who worked for the literacy of tribals and women and to establish cottage industries to make them self-reliant.

Indore Church sources told UCA News that local moneylenders and their supporters resented her developmental works, and "this seemed to have led to this preplanned murder."

Indore district authorities told reporters the assassins were among the 40 passengers who boarded the bus from Udainagar. They suddenly attacked her with knives and daggers as the bus neared a forest area through which it passes.

As shocked passengers watched, they then made the bus stop, threw her body out and fled, officials said, adding that police nabbed one but the main culprits absconded.

Some 2,000 people, including seven bishops in Madhya Pradesh and two from Kerala, attended the funeral Mass Feb. 27 in Indore´s St. Francis Cathedral.

After the Mass, they took the body, in which the autopsy confirmed over 50 stab wounds, in a procession of 100 vehicles to Udainagar for burial.

"It is a tragedy that the life of this dedicated religious person working for the uplift of tribals and poor women and other oppressed people should be terminated so drastically," said Archbishop Alan de Lastic of Delhi.

In a Feb. 27 press release, Archbishop de Lastic, a member of the Indian government´s National Integration Council, said the incident "is a blot on the country and its values of peace and non-violence."

"She is indeed a martyr of self-sacrifice in this century," he said.

Sister Maria had worked in Udainagar since 1992, after working in Bijnore diocese in northern Uttar Pradesh and Satna diocese in Madhya Pradesh.

Sister Maria, the former Mary Paul from Ernakulum, Kerala, has four sisters and two brothers. Her sister, Selmy Paul, is a Clarist nun working in Bhopal archdiocese in Madhya Pradesh.

After Sister Maria´s murder, laypeople, mostly women, organized silent processions to the offices of Indore district officials Feb. 26 requesting immediate action against the culprits.

The murder "questions the basic right to life," said CBCI deputy secretary general Father George Pereira. "If the government that should work for citizens´ welfare sits shrouded in apathy, it will lead to chaotic situations."

He asked the state government to book the culprits and guarantee the safety of missioners working for the state´s poor.


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