By Matters India Reporter
Ranchi, May 17, 2019: A Jesuit priest and five others were on May 17 given life imprisonment for their involvement in the gangrape of five women nearly a year ago in Jharkhand, eastern India.
Rajesh Kumar, Additional Judge of Khunti District Court, also awarded seven more years of hard labor for Father Alphonse Aind and others, besides imposing 100,000 rupees each as fine. The fine has to be paid to the rape survivors, the court said. Failure to do so will bring additional two more years of hard labor.
The district court had convicted the six of the crime on May 8 under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Among the total eight accused, one remains at large and another, a minor, was sent to juvenile court.
The sentencing was scheduled for May 15 but deferred for two more days.
Khunti is 33 km south of the state capital of Ranchi.
Father Aind maintains he is innocent, says a press release from the All Christians Media Cell.
“It’s my good fortune that I am a born citizen of India, a great country with provision for presenting one’s case yet again. I fully trust the judiciary. I will appeal in the higher court,” the press release quoted the priest as saying.
The media cell too expressed “firm faith both in the judiciary and the Indian Constitution.”
Father Aind, 48, was the parish priest of Sacred Heart Church and in-charge of Stockmann Memorial Middle School at Burudih in Kochang, some 100 km south of Ranchi.
The rape survivors were part of an 11-member tribal team from “Asha Kiran” (ray of hope), a rehabilitation center managed by Ursuline Sisters at Fudi, 20 km south of Ranchi.
They visited Kochang on June 19, 2018, to stage a play against human trafficking in the market place. Since some of them were Christians, they visited the mission school. Six men on motorcycles then came and forcibly took them to a forest about 7-8 km away and gangraped them at gunpoint.
A probe is on against two nuns associated with the NGO in the case.
Father Aind, who joined the Ranchi province of the Society of Jesus in 1992, was ordained a priest in 2007.
Police on June 21 took him into custody along with two nuns who brought the team to Kochang, and two teachers for interrogation. They were released a day later, but the priest was arrested on June 23 for abetting the crime.
He was sent to judicial custody, but was released on bail on March 12 by the Jharkhand High Court.
Kochang was the epicenter of the Pathalgarhi movement in Jharkhand that encourages tribals to assert their traditional and constitutional rights.
Public prosecutor Sushil Kumar Jaiswal said the court was convinced about Father Aind’s involvement in the rape conspiracy.
“Even though he had a mobile phone, he did not inform anyone, including the police, that the women had been kidnapped. He took no action after the survivors were brought back after being raped. The evidence produced by us in the court convinced the court,” the lawyer said.
Church officials maintain that all charges against the Jesuit priest are fabricated amid a hostile atmosphere against Christians since 2014 when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Jharkhand.
A lawyer for the priest, Jasminder Majumdar, told the court that the statements of the alleged victims in the gang rape case have “glaring contradictions” which proved the priest has been falsely implicated.
Kochang, an area dominated by Munda tribal people, is the first parish of Jesuits in Jharkhand opened by Father Augustus Stockmann, Chotanagpur’s pioneering Catholic missionary.