10/20/2006, 00.00
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Christian-run centre shut down for "proselytising" and "organ trafficking"

by Nirmala Carvalho
Run by a catholic priest, the ashram in Shimoga helps men with mental disorders. Police arrest the centre's volunteer workers and move patients elsewhere without evidence on the basis of rumours and hearsay. According to the bishop, fundamentalists who object to the centre's work are behind the incident.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – There is great apprehension in the diocese of Shimoga, Karnataka, over the future of Church-backed social activities after police raided a missionary-run ashram, arrested missionaries on false charges, and moved out the patients. The action was taken after a mental patient cared for at the Lourdu Matha Ashram left without permission in the afternoon of October 12. As they often did before volunteers at the institution used some force to bring the man back. But this time the patient became violent and started shouting at passers-by that the ashram was trafficking in organs.

Based on the claims of the mentally-unstable man, some of the passers-by began hitting the ashram workers, who were later detained by police for a day.

"The next day reporters from Udaya TV and ETV came to the rehabilitation centre to interview the patients but not the staff. The information they gathered was either false or totally blown out of proportion and this enflamed local passion," said Fr George Kuttickal, founder and director of the "Friends of Bird of the Air" (FBA).

Two days after the original incident, a mob of some 500 people stormed the ashram shouting at the staff. Police arrived to re-establish order and registered complaints against the centre for a series of alleged crimes such as trafficking in kidneys and forced conversions of patients. The result was that patients were moved to a state hospital in Sagar whilst eight staff members were charged with proselytising.

Mgr Gerald Lobo, bishop of Shimoga, said police determined that the accusations of organ trafficking were unfounded, but that it was concerned about the vigilante attitude of so many local residents so willing to take matters into their own hands on the basis of simple hearsay.

For the prelate, this incident is the latest in a series of pretexts trumped up by Hindu fundamentalists to stop Christian missionaries from performing their duties in India.

In a statement released to the press today, Father Kuttickal, from the Congregation of the Most Sacred Heart, called on the authorities to investigate the incident and offered his ashram's total cooperation to find the truth. He also asked that the volunteers imprisoned without evidence be freed.

The FBA is a movement open to all irrespective of race, creed and caste, committed to the rehabilitation of wandering beggars and the care of mentally ill men.

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