Indian Jesuit priest accused of abetting suicide
Implication in schoolgirl’s death described as ‘totally baseless’ as persecution of Christians continues
Muslim women pray on June 27 after protesting against the mob lynching of Tabrez Ansari in India’s Jharkhand state. The Muslim man was tortured and forced to chant Hindu slogans. Christians and other religious minorities say they are facing increasing persecution in the eastern state. (Photo by Sam Panthaky/AFP)
September 20, 2019
Police say they have begun investigating the allegation against Jesuit Father Stanley Furtado, the principal of St. Xavier’s High School in the Chaibasa area of the state.
”No arrest has been made so far. We are investigating the case thoroughly before taking any further measures such as [making an] arrest,” said Indrajeet Mahatha, police superintendent in West Singhbhum district.
The latest allegation came after a 10th-grade girl committed suicide on Sept. 14 at her home in Patahatu village. “She left no suicide note,” said
Jesuit Father Jerome Sequeira, assistant provincial in Jamshedpur province. ”It is a totally baseless case.”
He said the girl attended school on Sept. 13 but left the premises with another girl without telling anyone. They returned after school hours, saying they wanted to collect their schoolbags, which had been taken to the school office by the class leader. They were told to return with their parents the next day and they would be given the bags then, the priest said.
Both duly went home but only one girl returned with her parents the next day. The other committed suicide.
”Neither the principal nor anybody else had any role in her suicide,” said Father Sequeira.
He said it was the latest in a series of such incidents that targeted Christian missioners and institutions in the state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). ”How can a simple disciplinary measure become abetting a suicide?” the priest asked.
A sorry timeline
Since the BJP came to power in 2014 several missioners, including priests and a Missionaries of Charity nun, have been accused, investigated, arrested and jailed.
Police have also been investigating the funding and activities of scores of Christian institutions in Jharkhand to see if they have violated a state law that bans conversion by force or allurement.
Catholic leaders believe the allegations and police actions are part of an organized move to tarnish the image of missionaries and their institutions to deter local people from associating with them.
In September alone, two other Catholic priests and a catechist were arrested and a Jesuit institution was attacked with impunity.
No one has yet been arrested yet after a mob of 500 suspected Hindu hard-liners vandalized the Jesuit-run St. John Berchmans College on Sept. 3 in the town of Sahibganj.Four days later, Father V.J. Binoy and catechist Munna Hansda of Bhagalpur Diocese were arrested in their Rajadah mission area of Godda district and accused of grabbing protected tribal land and engaging in forced religious conversions.
In yet another incident, Jesuit Father Julian Ekka, the vice-principal of the Jesuit-run De Nobili School in Dhanbad district, and school nurse Emerencia Lomga were arrested and detained on Sept. 10 on charges of sexually abusing a 9-year-old girl. Father Binoy was released on bail six days later but the catechist remains in jail.
Jesuit Father Alphonse Aind also remains in custody after he was convicted of being involved in a gang rape case in June 2018. His appeal against conviction is pending in the state court.
Sister Concelia Baxla of the Missionaries of Charity was jailed on charges of child trafficking in July 2018. The courts have repeatedly refused her bail, so she, too, continues to languish behind bars.
In July 2018, a probe was ordered to see if 88 Christian non-government organizations were involved in illegal proselytization.
In April, the government recommended a federal inquiry into 31 of those 88 organizations to see if they had used overseas funds for conversion activities.
Jesuit missioners, who arrived in the region in the late 19th century, brought modern education and health care, attracting hundreds of tribal and lower-caste people to the Church.
Missioners say Jharkhand already has a strong Christian presence, yet Hindu groups work to malign missioners in their attempt to check further the spread of Christianity.
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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