By Matters India Reporter
Kochi, September 13, 2019: Cardinal George Alencherry has demanded the immediate release of a Catholic priest and a catechist who were arrested in Jharkhand state, eastern India, for alleged conversion charges.
Father Binoy John and catechist Munna Hansda are “under unjust judicial custody,” laments the head of the Syro-Malabar Church based in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
The arrest of the priest and the catechist “based on the accusations fabricated with ulterior motives” has shocked Christians in India, the cardinal points out in a press released on September 12 from the Church’s headquarters in Kochi.
The police of Deodard district on September 6 took away Fathers Arun Vincent and Benoy John and Munna Hansda from the Rajdaha Mission of the diocese of Bhagalpur accusing them of indulging in forcible conversion.
Father Vincent was sent away after questioning on the same day while the other two were arrested and sent to judicial custody.
In a note to priests and nuns of the Bhagalpur diocese, vicar general Father N M Thomas had expressed the hope that the two would be released after Muharram that fell on September 11 this year.
However, the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Godda on September 11 refused to grant them bail for want of clarity on certain issues.
The court has asked for the case diary from Deodard police station and posted the matter for September 16, Father Thomas said in another letter.
Cardinal Alencherry says prolonging the duo’s “judicial custody amounts to abuse of the legal system of the country.”
The Church leader described the matter as “a classical case” of misusing the provisions of Freedom of Religion Act.
Jharkhand is among several Indian states that have enacted laws to ban religious conversion using force, allurement and deceit.
The judicial custody of the two ïs the denial of freedom of right to propagate religion and right to freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution of India,” Cardinal Alencherry said.
The cardinal suspects the court’s refusal to grant bail the two even after taking the legal steps “as a deliberate move to prolong their custody”.
“It is clear that those who are not happy with the social and educational activities of the missionaries among the villagers are behind this,” he alleged.
The cardinal, who heads more than 500,000 Catholics spread all over the world, points out that Christians in India have always valued and striven for maintaining religious and social harmony.
“Christianity does not believe in forced conversions and the Church in India does not practice forced conversions,” he asserts.
The cardinal says the Church’s work among the weak and the poor has found favor from all irrespective of political difference.
He also appealed to the concerned authority to take steps to ensure justice to the arrested. He also urged the faithful to pray for the arrested, their relatives and for all serving the mission areas.