08/10/2007, 00.00
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Andhra Pradesh: 10,000 Christians protest against false murder charges

by Nirmala Carvalho
State minister orders arrest of a priest and four students for allegedly killing a young student in a vocational college. Catholics and Protestants along with some political leaders protest the baseless charges. For the archbishop of Hyderabad it is “an attempt to discredit and intimidate” the Church.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – More than 10,000 Christian from various denominations came together in a protest rally to protest a hate campaign against the Christian community. It was sparked by murder allegations against a priest and four students from a dental college. The mass gathering, which took place on Monday in Eluru, in West Godavari district (Andhra Pradesh), was led by Mgr. John Mulagada, bishop of Eluru, together with Bishop Mathew Cheriankunnel and Anglican Bishop John S.D. Raju. City mayor Shri Kare Babu Rao and MLA Shri Alla Kalikrishna also took part in the event as an expression of their solidarity.

After the rally some students and management staff from the affected college organised a sit-in in front of the District Collectorate and began fasting to protest the minority welfare minister’s arrest order.

Mgr Marampudi Joji, archbishop of Hyderabad, handed a memorandum to a government official.

The protest action ended when the authorities present at the rally said that a probe into the student’s death would be fair and free from political interference.

It all began in the evening of June 22 when B. Niranjan, a first-year dentistry student at the Church-run St Joseph Dental College, was found hanging from the ceiling fan in his room

Students and school staff said that the young man was having difficulties in his studies. They also testified that in front of others he had a heated argument with a female student who had spurned him.

The young man’s family and others instead accused Father Anand, the college assistant warden, and four other students of murdering the young man because he was from a tribal community and then trying to conceal the deed by simulating a suicide.

A complaint was eventually filed in court and the State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Last Friday Andhra Pradesh’s Minister for Tribal Welfare Shri Redya Naik told the family to stop fasting and ordered the arrest of the “culprits.”  This in turn led to the protest rally.

Those who knew B. Niranjan describe him as “irritable” and a “loner”. They remember that on the day of his death he was very agitated to the point that he threw a sharp object against a fellow student.

No one from the college accepts the notion that the institution discriminates on ethnic or any other basis.

“We all live like a family without showing any discrimination even though we belong to different religious and ethnic groups and hail from different parts of the country, including the North East,” said one student, S. Suruti.

In speaking to AsiaNews, Archbishop Joji slammed the “attempt to discredit and intimidate the Christian community” by exploiting the incident.

“Christians,” he said, “are a minority population at the service of the majority community.  Recently a survey conducted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India revealed a Hindu majority in Christian institutes: 53 per cent Hindus; 22.7 per cent Catholics and 8.6 per cent Muslims. And Dalits and Tribals have always been welcomed and through education can improve their situation.”

Fr Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, stressed that some “interested groups are using the suicide to discredit the college management and the Church.”

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