Indian priest bailed after arrest over student's death

Case against Father Lancy D'Souza is seen as an orchestrated ploy of Hindu nationalists to discredit Catholic services
Indian priest bailed after arrest over student's death

Indian Catholic volunteers of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights of Tripura hold placards during a peace rally for pre-Christmas celebrations in Agartala, the capital of the northeastern state, on Dec. 19, 2017. (AFP photo)

A court in eastern India's Tripura state bailed a Catholic priest on Oct. 30, two weeks after police arrested him over the death of a student in a church-run school.

Holy Cross Father Lancy D'Souza, in charge of the hostel of Holy Cross School in Unokoti district, was accused of not acting against hostel warden Bulchung Halam, who is charged with homicide.

The warden allegedly beat up ninth-grader Happy Debbarma, who died in hospital on Oct. 6. His mother complained that Debbarma died of internal injuries caused by Halam.

The court posted the hostel warden's bail application for a further hearing on Nov. 14.

"We are happy that now all our priests are out on bail," said Holy Cross Father Shaju Karinchery, the financial administrator of Agartala Diocese, which covers the entire state.

Besides Father D'Souza, two other Holy Cross priests — Joe Paul and Alfred D'Souza — were arrested on charges of tampering with evidence to help Father D'Souza evade arrest. The court bailed them on Oct. 13.

"We have full faith in the judiciary and we will get justice," said Father Karinchery, adding that the priests and the hostel warden "are innocent, and the police probe will vindicate it."

Father Karinchery said they have also moved the court to exempt Father Paul and Father D'Souza from the case as they "are no way connected to the school." He said they were on a visit to the school when arrested.

The court posted its hearing for Nov. 28.

Church leaders say the case is part of a plan by Hindu groups to discredit the services of the Catholic Church in their effort to establish a nation dominated by Hindu ideologies.

"It is a well-orchestrated ploy of Hindu nationalists to target Christians and their educational institutions," said Allen Brooks, spokesman for the Assam Christian Forum that works in the entire northeast region of India.

Hindu groups have accelerated their efforts in Tripura since March 2018 when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power.

"Unless our education institutions are discredited, their agenda of promoting Hindu nationalism among the poor, downtrodden and indigenous people will not succeed," Brooks told ucanews.

The educated will speak for the constitutional rights of democracy and equality. "They don't want that to happen, and therefore Christians and their works are targeted," Brooks said.

He said the problem is not just in Tripura. "It is a pan-India agenda to discredit Christians and their institutions," he said.

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