A court in Chhattisgarh has acquitted a Catholic priest, a nun and an employee.
The three had been unjustly accused in connection with an
alleged rape involving a nine-year-old girl.
Fr Joseph Dhanaswami, principal of the Jyoti Mission High School in
the diocese of Ambikapur, was found not guilty and released on Monday (9
January) after 16 months in prison.
Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told AsiaNews
that he is happy with the verdict.
However, for him the case is just
another example "of the ongoing harassment against the Christian
minority in educational facilities, in particular in Chhattisgarh State,
which is ruled by the [Hindu nationalist] Bharatiya Janata Party
The case dates back to 11 September 2015 when Fr Dhanaswami, Sister
Christ Maria, the hostel's overseer, and Philomina Kerketta, an employee
at the school, were arrested on charges of abusing a fourth grade girl
who was studying at the school run by the priest.
The girl’s mother had filed a complaint against the three Catholics
and the prosecution had stated that forensic evidence showed “traces of
semen on the undergarments" of the alleged victim.
Further investigations had found wounds on her wrists and private
parts, which, in the opinion of a doctor, were clear evidence of sexual
Catholic Church leaders immediately rejected all the charges and
declared that the indictment of the principal was nothing more than an
attempt to discredit the image of Christians.
Fr Dhanaswami noted that even though the girl suffered from
dermatitis, which had spread to the genital area, her mother and local
Hindu extremists continued to blame the educators.
After the Catholics’ arrest, "activists from the Bajrang Dal and the
Vishva Hindu Parishad (radical Hindu groups) led protests and threw
stones at the school," Sajan K George said.
Since the BJP came to power in Chhattisgarh in 2003, "we have had an
increased in attacks against Christians, which intensified after 2014,
when the party took over the central government,” the Christian leader
“In addition, five villages in Bastar district have approved
ordinances that ban non-Hindu religious activities and prayers. In that
State, 'Ghar Wapsi', ceremonies to bring home [to Hinduism] and
reconvert Christians are commonplace."
In 2006 the State Assembly approved the Chhattisgarh Freedom of
Religion (Amendment) Act, an anti-conversion law that punishes with
imprisonment of up to three years and fines of up to 20,000 rupees (US$
300) anyone who is caught converting others via allurement, cheating or
the use of force.