Fr Joseph Dhanaswami was arrested in September 2015 along with a nun and a school employee. He heads the Jyoti Mission High School in the diocese of Ambikapur, which the alleged victim attended. According to a Christian leader, since nationalists came to power in 2003, "we have had an increased in attacks against Christians”.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A court in Chhattisgarh has acquitted a Catholic priest, a nun and an employee. The three had been unjustly accused in connection with an alleged rape involving a nine-year-old girl.
Fr Joseph Dhanaswami, principal of the Jyoti Mission High School in the diocese of Ambikapur, was found not guilty and released on Monday (9 January) after 16 months in prison.
Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told AsiaNews that he is happy with the verdict. However, for him the case is just another example "of the ongoing harassment against the Christian minority in educational facilities, in particular in Chhattisgarh State, which is ruled by the [Hindu nationalist] Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)."
The case dates back to 11 September 2015 when Fr Dhanaswami, Sister Christ Maria, the hostel's overseer, and Philomina Kerketta, an employee at the school, were arrested on charges of abusing a fourth grade girl who was studying at the school run by the priest.
The girl’s mother had filed a complaint against the three Catholics and the prosecution had stated that forensic evidence showed “traces of semen on the undergarments" of the alleged victim.
Further investigations had found wounds on her wrists and private parts, which, in the opinion of a doctor, were clear evidence of sexual intercourse.
Catholic Church leaders immediately rejected all the charges and declared that the indictment of the principal was nothing more than an attempt to discredit the image of Christians.
Fr Dhanaswami noted that even though the girl suffered from dermatitis, which had spread to the genital area, her mother and local Hindu extremists continued to blame the educators.
After the Catholics’ arrest, "activists from the Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (radical Hindu groups) led protests and threw stones at the school," Sajan K George said.
Since the BJP came to power in Chhattisgarh in 2003, "we have had an increased in attacks against Christians, which intensified after 2014, when the party took over the central government,” the Christian leader added.
“In addition, five villages in Bastar district have approved ordinances that ban non-Hindu religious activities and prayers. In that State, 'Ghar Wapsi', ceremonies to bring home [to Hinduism] and reconvert Christians are commonplace."
In 2006 the State Assembly approved the Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, an anti-conversion law that punishes with imprisonment of up to three years and fines of up to 20,000 rupees (US$ 300) anyone who is caught converting others via allurement, cheating or the use of force.