08/20/2015, 00.00
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Police arrest six Catholics in Rajshahi in connection with the death of a “possessed” tribal woman

by Sumon Corraya
Fulmoni Murmu came to St John Vianney Catholic Church in Mundumala seeking treatment. Fr Corraya said that she mumbled gibberish. Charmers hit her with sticks. Now the priest is the object of threats and pressures.

Rajshahi (AsiaNews) – Police in Rajshahi District arrested six Catholics, suspected of complicity in the death of an ethnic Santhal* woman, "possessed" by the devil, who died in circumstances yet to be clarified in St John Vianney Catholic Church in Mundumala.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Michael Corraya, the local parish priest, denied involvement of any Catholics, saying instead that they treated several cases of people possessed by the devil over the years.

This particular case goes back a few days ago when Fulmoni Murmu, a 60-year-old ethnic Santhal Christian woman came to the parish dispensary babbling gibberish. "Fulmoni Murmu showed signs of [mental] illness,” said Fr Corraya. “She claimed that she had visions of Jesus and Mary. We thought she was possessed."

The Santhal tribal group is very poor, often discriminated by majority Muslim Bangladeshis because they worship different gods. However, a number of Santhal are also Catholic, especially in the country’s poorest districts, and are often attacked by other religious groups over land ownership.

The presence of the tribal woman in the church attracted some charmers that were in the area. "They came inside the church to heal her. They hit her with sticks and she died.”

However, for the priest, Fulmoni did not die from the beating, but from old age and the advanced state of her illness. "Our people did not mistreat her. They cared for her.”

Because of what happened, the priest has received threats and has come under pressure from local administration.

"We did not know that she might die,” he said. “I am concerned about the arrest of the six Catholics. On previous occasions, they had successfully treated similar cases of possessed patients."

* The Santhal, also spelled Santal, are an ethnic group in South Asia. A significant Santhal minority in Bangladesh.

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