Catholic priest, nun acquitted in sexual abuse case
By Saramma Emmanuel
Ambikapur: A court in a central Indian state has acquitted a Catholic priest, a nun and their maid, who were arrested 16 months ago on charges of sexual abuse of a minor girl.
The District and Sessions Court Baikunthpur in Chhattisgarh state’s Koriya district on January 9 exonerated Father Joseph Dhanaswami, Samaritan Sister Christ Maria and Philomena Kerketta, the maid, of all charges.
The three were arrested on September 11, 2015, following a complaint from the mother of a nine-year-old fourth grader that they had sexually exploited her daughter.
The priest was the principal of Church-managed Jyoti Mission High School in Chirimiri village while the nun was the hostel warden.
The three were acquitted after the prosecution failed to prove its case.
The nun was out on bail as she was charged with minor offence compared to the other two.
The priest was accused of rape, the maid of unnatural sex and the nun of not informing the police about the alleged offence.
“Now after 16 months trial our stand is vindicated,” says Father Anthony Bara, vicar general of Ambikapur diocese.
The diocese has maintained that the three were framed to tarnish the image of the Church and the school.
Father Bara told Matters India on January 10 that they are “happy that all of them are free from the alleged offence.”
Sanjeevan Lall, the lawyer of the Church people, said the court acquitted them after the prosecution failed to prove the case.
“It was a politically motivated case and we could prove it in the court,” Lall told Matters India.
According to him, the police, under pressure from right wing politicians, had changed three investigating officers to effectively prove the alleged offence against the priest and others, but they failed.
“We also go benefit of doubt as there were many shortcomings in the police finding,” the lawyer explained.
Narrating the ordeal the vicar general said, “The arrests were made following pressure from right-wing Hindu activists.”
He also said activists of the Bajrang Dal, a right wing Hindu organization, and youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), staged a protest and threw stones at the school, destroying a Marian statue to pressurize the police to act against the Church officials.
Father Bara said the girl, who was staying in the Church-run hoste, suffered from a skin disease, including on her private parts. As she was not feeling comfortable, she sought permission from the hostel warden to go home to stay with her mother.
Before letting her go, the helper at the hostel gave her a bath. When the girl went home, her mother lodged a police complaint accusing the priest, nun and the helper of sexual abuse, Fr Bara added.
The Church in Chhattisgarh has alleged that it has faced harassment since the state was created in 2000, carving out of Madhya Pradesh. Both the states have since 2003 been been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political arm of hardline groups that want to create a Hindu theocratic state in India.
The majority of the state’s some 110 million people are Hindus. Christians form 1.9 percent of the population.
The Church is engaged primarily in education and health care among the poor.
Church critics, mostly extremist Hindu groups, allege that Church’s social service is a tactic for conversion.