Christians in the crosshairs in Madhya Pradesh: "they're using girls to defame the Church"

Madhya Pradesh, India - The Christians of the diocese of Ujjain are protesting against the arrest of Fr Joseph Kappiliparampil, and are dismissing as unfounded the reason for the February 12 arrest.

Together with a few religious sisters, Fr Joseph is responsible for managing a school and boarding house that serves 22 girls. On February 12, a group of about 300 Hindu nationalists together with Bajrang Dal activists attacked the house, seized the priest, and after roughing him up had him arrested together with one of the sisters. The superintendent of the police who arrested him says that in reality "we have not arrested the priest, but have taken him to save his life from the mob led by fundamental organisations".

The event followed charges levelled by two girls, aged 12 and 15, who have accused the priest of molestation and abuse. It seems that the two girls do not agree with some of the strict rules imposed by the priest and the sisters at the boarding house, and their rebellion against their guardians has erupted in weighty accusations against Fr Joseph.

The extremist movements have exploited the opportunity to commit further abuses against Christians, who are increasingly the target of those who aspire to a Hindu nation, and do not tolerate religious minorities.

The attacks against the Church in Madhya Preadesh have increased since the Indian Popular Party (BJP) - which includes ultra-nationalist and extremist fringe groups - came to power in December of 2003.

Fr Hans Puthiakulangara, spokesman for the diocese of Ujjain, says that the fundamentalist organisations are coaching children to make accusations and using them to defame the Church.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio, Bishop Sebastian Vadakel of Ujjain Diocese, and the bishops' council of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh have condemned the use of girls to dishonour the priest and discredit the Church. "It is the most heinous and most shameless method the timid fundamental organisations are using to assert themselves through hooliganism. We condemn the incident and ask the state government to deliver justice". Christians fear that episodes of this kind will increase with the approach of the elections.