02/08/2022, 18.30
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Bishop and five priests arrested in connection with illegal mining in Tamil Nadu

Syro-Malankara Bishop Samuel Mar Irenios Kaattukallil of Pathanamthitta (Kerala) and five priests are accused for mining on Church-owned land. The accused say that the mining was done without the Church’s knowledge on land leased to a farmer. In the meantime, the nun blamed for the suicide of a young woman in the Michaelpatti hostel has been released on bail. The case has been exploited by Hindu nationalists in their anti-conversion campaign.

Kottayam (AsiaNews) – A court in Tamil Nadu ordered the arrest of Mgr Samuel Irenios Kaattukallil, the Syro-Malankara Catholic bishop of Pathanamthitta in the neighbouring state of Kerala, as well as five priests from the same diocese in connection with illegal sand mining on diocese-owned land in Tirunelveli, a district in Tamil Nadu.

Bishop Kaattukallil, 69, has led the Syro-Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta since 2019. He and another priest, Fr Jose Chamakala, are currently at the Government Medical College Hospital in Tirunelveli.

The other four priests - the vicar general of the diocese Fr Shaji Thomas Manikulam, and Frs George Samuel, Jijo James and Jose Kalaviyal, were remanded into custody and are held at the Nanguneri subjail, in Tirunelveli.

At the centre of the affair are 300 acres of land in Pottal, a village located near the Tamirabarani River, where allegedly illegal sand mining took place.

In a statement, the spokesman for the Diocese of Pathanamthitta, Fr Joel P John Poweth, confirmed that the land in question is owned by the diocese, but points out that it was leased to a farmer, Manuel George, for cultivation.

“Diocesan officials could not go there for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he explained. “Once informed that the lease holder had breached the contract, the diocese took legal action to rescind the contract,” Fr Poweth added.

The police, however, claim that in 2019 the diocese allowed the farmer, who was also arrested, to store, process and consume rough stone, graver, crusher dust and sand from its property.

Local residents and environmental groups have long been opposed to sand mining, and complained to the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, which informed police.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated story in Tamil Nadu Sister Sahaya Mary, a member of the Franciscans of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was released on bail.

She was arrested and jailed for more than two weeks in connection with the suicide of a 17-year-old woman in a nuns' hostel in Michaelpatti, a village in the Thanjavur district.

Hindu fundamentalists have exploited this tragic story, blaming the death on pressures exerted on the girl to convert to Christianity.

“Today she will return home,” said Sister Firmina Mary, provincial superior of the religious order. “We thank everyone for their prayers and support.”

The court ordered that the other nun accused by the girl's father in the affair not be arrested.

However, by decision of the High Court of Madras, the inquiry into the young woman's death remains in the hands of the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s federal investigating agency, which deals with the most serious crimes.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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