07/06/2004, 00.00
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Parish area remains tense following Catholic-Hindu violence

Pune (AsiaNews/UCAN) - A parish area in western India remains tense two weeks after a Hindu mob attacked Catholics.

Police continue to patrol Devbag, a fishing village in the territory of Poona diocese. Several Catholics were beaten there after a parishioner slapped a Hindu youth. Two of the Catholics injured in the clash are still hospitalized, recovering from bone fractures.

Police arrested 13 Catholics and two Hindus soon after the fracas, but released them a day later with a warning not to cause further trouble.

The village is near the town of Malwan, about 1,850 kilometers southwest of New Delhi, in Maharashtra state.

Santosh Rastogi, local police superintenden, told that five policemen have been posted at the compound of St. Peter's Parish in Devbag to prevent trouble.

Juze Fernandes, one of the hospitalized fishermen, told that a group of Hindu men armed with wooden sticks beat him. "I covered my head with both my hands," he said.

Trouble started June 14 when a member of the local parish council slapped the son of a member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council), a group that wants to make India a Hindu nation.

The parish council member, Simon Fernandes, says he slapped the Hindu youth, whose family lives near the church, after the youth "abused and threatened" a Catholic layman for not widening a footpath near the church.

"Soon a group of 20 Hindus attacked me, hitting me all over and biting my finger till it bled," Fernandes said, adding that 15 Catholics who came to his rescue also were beaten.

After a day of calm, he continued, about 600 Hindus with wooden sticks gathered near the church on June 16. Some Catholics who were on the road were attacked, two of them "very badly," Fernandes said. He called the attack "well-planned" since it happened two days after "the slapping event."

Anant Tari, father of the Hindu youth Fernandes slapped, counters that "there was no provocation" for this action. When news of the incident spread, "naturally people were angry and retaliated," Tari told on July 1.

Tari held the parish priest "responsible for the tension" in the village by not heeding requests to widen the footpath for public use.

Police escorted Capuchin Father Wilson Rumao out of the village, leaving the parish of about 800 Catholics without a priest.

Father Rumao may not come back "till tempers calm down and peace returns to the village," Father Philip Gonsalves said. The Capuchin councilor is based in Mumbai, the state capital.

Father Andrew De Mello, in charge of another parish, said right-wing Hindu groups used the issue to "whip up communal tension for the first time in the village."

On July 28, Narayan Rane, former chief minister of Maharashtra now opposition leader in the state assembly, held a meeting in Malwan to appeal for peace.

Rane told that Hindus and Christians have coexisted peacefully in Devbag for centuries. "This is the first time a minor clash broke out between" them, and over a petty issue, he added.








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