Three Catholic priests arrested over Indian student’s death
Allegations are seen as an attempt to disrupt missionaries in a northeastern state governed by the pro-Hindu BJP
Catholic girls perform a dance-procession during a liturgical ceremony in Agartala Diocese. Three priests in the northeastern state of Tripura face investigation over the death of a 15-year-old school student. (Photo: Agartala Diocese)
Police have arrested three Catholic priests in connection with the death of a 15-year-old school student in India’s Tripura state, but church leaders suspect the move is part of a plan to tarnish missionary services.Holy Cross Father Lancy D’Souza will remain in judicial custody until Oct. 30. He is in charge of a hostel attached to Holy Cross School in the Kumarghat area of the Unokoti district of the northeastern state.
A local court bailed two other priests — Fathers Joe Paul and Alfred D’Souza — after they were arrested on Oct. 13.All three priests face investigation in connection with the death of a ninth-grader, Happy Debbarma, who died in hospital on Oct. 6.A police complaint filed by the boy’s mother claims her son died of internal injuries after the hostel warden beat him up.Father D’Souza has been accused of not acting against hostel warden Bulchung Halam, who is charged with beating up the student.
The two bailed priests, who visited the school as part of a courtesy call, are charged with destroying evidence and helping Father D’Souza evade arrest.Hostel warden Halam, arrested on Oct. 15, has been remanded to judicial custody until Oct. 30.The allegations “may be an attempt to disrupt the services rendered by the Church, especially the weaker sections in Tripura,” said Holy Cross Father Roy Paul, the assistant provincial of Holy Cross congregation in northeast India.In an explanatory note, the priest said Debbarma was a “sickly” student needing frequent hospitalization.
On Sept. 26 he left the hostel with his mother to enjoy a festival holiday.But neither he nor his mother made any complaint about the alleged attack on him by the warden at the time, the priest explained.The boy’s parents hospitalized him during his vacation time, and he died in hospital. His mother then complained to police of her suspicion of an attack by the warden.
The autopsy report was not made public, church officials said.”The facts are being distorted, false motives are ascribed, and unwarranted developments are taking place,” Father Paul said.The student’s death “is the most painful part of the entire incident” and “we are in total solidarity with the bereaved family,” the note said.
Father Lawrence Barlong of Agartala Diocese, which covers the entire state of Tripura, said the “unfortunate incident is being used to target the 50-year-old school.”The Catholic Youth of Tripura in social media posts said there were attempts to link the incident with religious conversion.Hindu groups, who support the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that runs the state government, have been opposing Christian educational and healthcare services in Indian villages, claiming such works are a facade for converting gullible people to Christianity.”Following the sad demise of Debbarma, it was observed that a religious organization openly made allegations that Christian missionaries are converting people in the guise of education,” the Catholic organization said in a social media post.
The youth group condemned the “false allegations.” It also appealed to the government to act against the organization, which conducted “an open rally and made hate speeches against the missionaries.”
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