DAILY CATHOLIC     FRI-SAT-SUN     September 25-27, 1998     vol. 9, no. 188

from a CATHOLIC perspective

To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO and SECTION THREE


          NEW DELHI (CWNews.com) - Indian Catholics have been stunned and outraged by the gang-rape of four nuns and the looting of their convent. The crimes occurred early Wednesday morning in the Jhabua region of the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

          A gang of bandits forced their way into the convent, after the nuns refused their request to accompany them to someone needing medical aid, said officials of the Diocese of Isidore. The group looted the convent and gang-raped the sisters. The outraged bishops of Madhya Pradesh state agreed to close all Catholic institutions on Friday and organize a massive protest march on Sunday to demand immediate action.

          Following is further details by Anto Akkara for CWN on this terrible incident:

          Indian Catholics have been stunned and outraged by the gang-rape of four nuns and the looting of their convent. The crimes occurred early Wednesday morning in the Jhabua region of the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

          A gang of 10-15 hoodlums knocked on the door of the convent at 2 in the morning, and asked the nuns (who provide medical services to members of the tribes living in the region) to come with them to see a patient, according to Father Lucas Izidore, the secretary of the Indore diocese where the events took place. Izidore told CWN that the nuns, trouble, refused to open the door and instead bolted themselves into the convent chapel and started praying.

          The hoodlums then broke open the iron doors of the convent, and looted the convent. Later, they shouted at the nuns to open the chapel doors, promising that they would not harm them. "On coming out, all the four nuns in the convent were forcibly taken to the nearby fields and gang-raped," said Father Izidore. He requested that the names of the nuns, and the congregation to which they belonged, be withheld.

          "We are shocked at this. I met the nuns at the police station [where they had been taken to lodge complaint]. They are terrified," said Bishop George Anathil of Indore.

          Eleven of the twelve Catholic bishops of the Madhya Pradesh state held an "emergency meeting" this morning, Bishop Anathil told CWN, and decided to close all Catholic institutions on Friday and to organize a massive protest march from St. Francis Cathedral in Indore on Sunday to protest this "barbaric act" and to demand immediate action against the guilty parties.

          While several senior government officials of the state have visited the convent-- including the Home Minister, who is responsible for the police-- Bishop Anatil insisted that Church leaders want more. "We want the government to act tough, to stop such attacks on us ," he said.

          Describing the incident as "inhuman" and "a national shame," the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) said in a Thursday press release that "this is not isolated incident, as is clear from incidents of attacks on minorities in the past few months, and appears to be part of a game plan of vested interest groups that are now operating in the country against the minorities."

          In a veiled criticism of the Hindu nationalists who now leading the federal coalition government, who have been accused of "Christian- bashing" in recent months, the statement signed by CBCI president Archbishop Alan de Lastic of Delhi said that the Indian Church "would not be surprised to find that [the hoodlums] are working with the approval of higher-ups in the government and some rightist political parties." The statement further pointed out that there has been "increasing incidents of selective attacks" on Christians especially in the northern and western states where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holds sway. The Western Gujrath state, under BJP rule, has recorded over 30 attacks on Christians since March, which had prompted the National Minority Commission to send an investigative team into the state.

          "I am not sure whether the nuns were victims of an anti-Christian conspiracy. We have no evidence," said the local bishop. However, Bishop Anathil said that there have been instances of harassment of nuns in the recent past, including threats and stone-throwing at the convents in remote areas where the nuns work.

          Bishop Anathil himself had presided three years ago at the funeral of Clarist Sister Rani Maria, who was murdered in a macabre manner. The nun-- who was popular with tribal people, after saving them from the clutches of money lenders-- was stabbed over 40 times in February 1995 before a crowd of 50 onlookers, including the local BJP leader. When her killers were released on bail, the culprits were even audacious to pull down the "shrine" local people had built in memory of the beloved nun.

          John Dayal of the All India Catholic Union (AICU)-- a group that is in the forefront of campaigning for Christians' fundamental rights-- believes that "Christians have every reason to suspect a larger anti- Christian conspiracy" behind the latest incident. Several Catholic leaders contacted by this correspondent seemed to share the same concern that the gang-rape of the nuns in Madhya Pradesh is the handiwork of Hindu fundamentalists.

          Hindu cadre groups like Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have been increasingly aggressive and more vocal about driving away Christian "missionaries" (a category which in practice includes Christian social workers who the oppressed tribal people to resist exploitation) ever since the BJP-led coalition government took office in March.

          Meanwhile CBCI and AICU have appealed to the federal President K. R. Narayanan to direct the BJP-led federal government and the state government to ensure the safety of Christians.

Articles provided through Catholic World News Service.
CWN is not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

September 25-27, 1998       volume 9, no. 188


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