21 October 2006

Priest beaten stripped naked and paraded by mob

The incident that became a national scandal concerned the forced stripping of Father Christudas, twice in a day last year. Christudas was the vice-principal of St Joseph's High School in Guhiajori of Bihar's Dumka district. A seventh class boy, Sakal Hansda, alleged that the priest had fondled his genitals in his room on August 30.

Four days later, three senior boys accompanying Hansda forced Christudas to walk with them to the bishop's house in Dudhani, Dumka, 13 kilometres away, to register a complaint. The apprehensive principal of the school, Father Joachim Lakra, followed them. A mob soon gathered after them.

Three kilometres from the school, according to a report of the Minorities Commission, Subdivisional Magristrate Harendra Sharma met the group. When Lakra urged him to intervene, Sharma apparently said he had only his personal staff, but assured that nothing would happen.

A little later, Santhal Parganas college students led by a student leader, who had attacked another of the school's priests in 1995, burst upon Christudas, hit him on the head with a hockey stick, punched and kicked him, stripped him naked, cut up his hair with scissors, put ash all over his face, and garlanded him with chappals and shoes. Christudas ran and hid inside a district administration jeep but was dragged out and beaten again and made to walk.

At the mofussil police station he was thrashed again. In the main street of Dumka, the district collector (since transferred), A Jha, whose wife St Joseph's employed, in the presence of N P Singh, the superintendent of police (also transferred), ordered Christudas to the town police station. The Commission's report quotes witnesses saying that Jha was abusive. Christudas was handed his clothes back.

The Commission has been unable to determine what happened in the backrooms in the next 15 minutes. Except that soon policemen were ordering Christudas out of his clothes and out of the police jeep and handing him back to the mob to be beaten and dragged to the Bishop's house. The Commission says a telephone order came to policemen; who made it for what is being inquired by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Christudas was a disciplinarian and had removed some students from the hostel. The Commission's case is that the collector, without the most preliminary of investigations into Christudas's alleged sexual misconduct, branded him, acquiesced in his being returned to the maddened mob, and demanded of the Church to expel him. As for his subordinates, the next day's newspapers published pictures of a naked Christudas flanked by policemen looking as smug as the students.

"Almost the entire senior district staff is of non-tribal origin,'' says the Commission's report. ''Many of (them) have open or latent sympathy for the BJP. In Dumka's largest education institute (SP college) the BJP-RSS frontal organisations control the students' union and have a following among the teaching staff, including the acting principal of the college."

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