Indian priest, nun get jail term for defying court order
Pair intend to appeal against sentence for failing to reinstate students expelled from Catholic school in Madhya Pradesh
Saji Thomas, Bhopal, India
Catholics pray at the annual feast of Christ the King in New Delhi. Christian leaders say their people are repeatedly accused of breaking the law, particularly in states like Madhya Pradesh. (Photo by Bijay Kuamr Minj/ucanews.com
A court in central India has sentenced a Catholic priest and a nun to two months each in jail for defying a court order to reinstate two students their school expelled two years ago.
The district court in Ujjain town of Madhya Pradesh state also asked Father Sebastian Mullamangalam, the then manager of St. Paul Convent School, and school principal Sister Archana to pay 1 million rupees (US$16,000) compensation to the students.
The court’s Jan. 6 order, made public three days later, also requires them to pay legal compensation to the state of US$3,200.
The court, however, has kept its order in abeyance for a month to help the convicts appeal against the order in a higher court, failing which they will have to accept the sentence.
Church officials have removed the accused priest and nun from the school and appointed new officials but maintained they committed no offence.
The school is accused of illegally terminating three students at the end of academic year 2015, with a remark in their transfer certificate that their parents’ “behavior was not good.”
The school’s counsel, Arun Kannan, told ucanews.com that parents were “continuously harassing the school by leveling false allegations against it” such as financial exploitation of students.
The parents opposed the termination through the district child welfare committee, which ruled in favor of the students. But the school appealed against it in a court, which ruled in favor of the school, forcing one of the parents, Devendra Maheshwari, to appeal in the district court.
The court in April 21016 asked the school to reinstate the students, saying they cannot be punished for their parents’ behavior. It also directed the school to admit the students “as per the law, if they approach it,” according to Kannan.
But Maheshwari, whose son and daughter were among the three terminated, accused school authorities of non-compliance with the court order and pressed for the maximum punishment.
Kannan said the complainant did not approach the school and the students could not be admitted. He said the school has a strong case and will be exonerated of all charges in a higher court.
The school’s new manager, Jacob Nirappel, said the pair plan to appeal the sentence and hope to be freed from all charges. The school comes under Ujjain Diocese.
Madhya Pradesh, where the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power for the past 15 years, has a history of anti-Christian violence that Christian leaders allege happens with the tacit support of the administration.
Christians are a tiny minority who form less than one percent of the state’s 72 million people, but Hindu groups who support making India a solely Hindu nation target them, Christian leaders say.
The state witnessed 21 violent attacks on Christians and hundreds of cases of harassment, threats and intimidation at the hands of Hindu groups from January to November 2017, according to data published by voluntary group Alliance Defending Freedom.