Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Report on the Catholic Preist arrested in Jhabua

A priest blackmailed for free education, but failed to file FIR against them, which causes him police arrest

Source: Persecuted Church of India, Yahoo Groups

Fr Thomas P. T. the parish priest of St Michael's church, Jhapadra belonging to Catholic Diocese of Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, India, was arrested on 21st July 2005 on the false accusation of abetting some tribals for conversion. He was released on bail immediately after the arrest. The priest was many times threatened of leveling conversion charges if he does not give fee concession for his child and free education to the children of his relatives by Mr. Rusmal S/o Humji Charpota. The priest was advised to file an FIR of blackmailing him and the church personal. But the priest refused to do anything. This gave enough time for the fundamental organizations to group together against him. The charged him of the same. And he was arrested and set free.

The sequence of the incident is as follows:

Rusmal S/o Humji Charpota, an active RSS worker of Jhapadra village is the main complainant in the case that led to the arrest of the priest who had been working in the area as a missionary for the last
21 years. The arrest was effected on the section 3 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 1968, which provides for prevention of forcible conversion or attempt to conversion by force or allurement. The action came after Rusmal an ex-student of the above school along with his brother and Pachayath president Mr. Balu Humji Charpotta and six others submitted affidavits in the court of S. D. M. in the nearby town of Thandla on Friday 8th July 2005, accusing the priest to the above effect.

Prior to this on Friday 24th of June 2005 Rusmal had met Fr Thomas P T in the nearby Parolia Junction. There he told the priest that there was a complaint against him. On inquiry he had told him, "You have increased the fees. We will decide in our RSS meeting as to what is to be done. We will make a complaint against you to the collector and you forget about staying in Jhapadra."

The affidavits filed on 8th July 2005 stated that when they had allegedly gone to Fr. Thomas P. T Manager of the above Mission School for admitting their children, they were asked to pay a huge amount as fees. As they expressed their inability to pay the amount the priest allegedly told them that if they became Christians, no fees would be charged. As they refused to become Christians their children were not yet admitted in the school. Nothing could be far from the truth. All the school admissions are done by Sr Pratima, the school headmistress and the school staff. As the manager the priest has no direct role in the day to day running of the school. So none of the above complainants had ever approached the priest for the purpose of school admission. Moreover the wards of most of the complainants were already studying in the school for many years. And this year too all of them had paid the fees of the children prior to making the complaint and all their children are attending the classes even to this day. The same day evening Police Inspector from the nearby Kakanwani, Police Station came to Jhapadra searching for Fr. Thomas. Since he was out of station the Police asked the sisters to inform him to report to the police station at 10 `O' clock, the next day.

Next day the priest went to the Police station along with Fr. Mathias Bhuria the V. G. of the diocese and Mr. Peter Baberia a local Christian BJP leader. The Inspector advised them to settle the matter amicably in the village and then they would come and take the statements of both parties and report to the higher ups that the issue had been settled. Fr. Anand Muttungal, the spokesperson, Catholic Bishops Conference, M. P Region, talked to the Town Inspector about the incident. He said that nothing to be serious and no issue of conversion is found. He spoke same to other Christian members too.

So the priest came back to the Parish along with the others. Soon after the Block Education Officer (BEO) of Meghnagar came to the school along with Rusmal, the main complainant, his brother Balu Sarpanch and some others. They inspected the records of the school and took the statement of Sr. Pratima, the Headmistress of the school. They went away without even meeting Fr. Thomas, the Manager of the school, against whom the complaint was lodged.

After this on Monday 11/07/2005 at 3. p. m Fr. Thomas received a show- cause notice served by the SDM, Thandla based on the report of the BEO, stating that many irregularities are found in the school records. Especially it was stated that there was a disparity in the fees collected from the Christian and non-Christian students of the K. G. class. This also is not true and does not tally with the facts. This year 111 children had taken admission in the K G class. Among them 99 had paid the full fees and the rest have paid only partially for various reasons and that too at different rates. Among the above two categories, there are both Christians and non-Christians. Above all even if such difference existed it was beyond anyone's imagination that how it amounted to a case under the provisions of M. P. Religious Freedom Act 1968. The SDM asked him to file the reply by 11am on the next day.

As per the suggestion of the advocate on the next day Fr. Thomas approached the S D M with an application requesting him for the copies of the complaints. But the SDM told that he need the reply immediately within half an hour, since he had to report to the collector by 2 `O'clock. Further he said that only then he would make the copies of the complaints available. So the priest gave an interim reply on the spot. The SDM fixed 15/07/2005 Friday for the final reply. Meanwhile on Wednesday 13/07/2005 at 4 pm the same SDM came to Japadhara and informed the priest that the collector has asked him to be out of the station for a few days as the complainants are making some plan which he did not specify. As per the instruction of the S D M the priest gave an application to postpone the date for filing the reply and it was fixed for 18th July 2005.

From 16th July 2005 Saturday, it was rumored that on the collector's instruction the SDM had already ordered the Kakanwani police to file an FIR against the accused Priest. Finally on Sunday 17/07/2005 the FIR was registered. So a day before receiving the final and full reply to the show cause notice, the administration already registered the FIR. However on 18th July 2005 the reply was submitted in the office of the SDM.

After learning that the FIR had been registered, on the same day the diocesan office sent a few persons to the police station to know the content of the FIR. They were informed that the FIR was registered under the M. P Freedom of religion Act 1968 section 3, and the priest had to be arrested. The police informed that the offence is bailable. Meanwhile the police team went to Jhapadra and confiscated all the records of the K G section, which do not come under the preview of the formal school curriculum and does not require any recognition from the education department. Finally the priest was arrested on Tuesday, 21st July 2005 and was immediately released on bail.

While the above scenario was unfolding to which regular media reports gave much hype, the report of the Narendra Prasad Committee was published in the newspapers on 11th July 2005. The committee headed by the retired Director General of Police, (Prison), was appointed to look into the reasons for communal violence which broke out in Jhabua district after the murder of Sujatha in January last year.

After the arrest of Fr. Thomas P. T the Christian community in Jhabua district came together in their respective areas and gave memorandum to the local administration at Tehsil and district level condemning the arrest. They demanded the administration to dismiss the false case against Fr. Thomas immediately and to take stern action against those who harass the Christian community perpetuating lie and falsehood against them and their institutions, which are rendering selfless service in the field of education, health and community development in the district.

Fr. Anand Muttungal

PRO & Spokesperson

Catholic Church, M. P