Former Church-school student charged with raping nun

| December 9, 2009

BHUBANESWAR, India: The arrest of a past student of a Church school charged with raping a nun last year has left his former principal wondering what went wrong.

Father Mathew Puthyadam recalls Gurumar Patra as a good student who showed the priest "great respect" whenever they met. "I really wonder how he changed."

Patra, now a regional general secretary of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), studied at Vijay High School in Raikia, a town in Orissa state's Kandhamal district.

The man stands accused of leading a mob that attacked a Church center in the village of Balliguda during seven weeks of anti-Christian rioting that began on Aug. 24, 2008, and left around 90 people dead. Prosecutors say he raped the nun, who has been identified only as Sister Meena, in front of onlookers.

The police produced Patra in court on Dec. 7, a day after he was arrested.

Raj Kishore, a prosecution lawyer for the riot victims, described Patra as "one of the ring leaders" of the violence.

Father Puthyadam, now parish priest in Phulbani, Kandhamal's administrative seat, is shocked and at a loss to explain how his former student became so hostile toward Christians.

The priest said Patra's mother brought him to the school saying he lost his father in early childhood and they had no money to continue his studies.

"I arranged sponsorship through a Christian aid agency for his fees as well as for him to stay in adjacent Bishop Tobar Hostel," he recounted.

Patra graduated from the 10th grade.

Students rarely maintain contact with the Church after they leave its schools, according to Father Puthyadam. As they roam around villages, Hindu radical groups recruit them and indoctrinate them against Christians.

The priest said he knows of a few other former students of Catholic schools who also led mobs that attacked Christians and Christian institutions.

Despite dismay such as that expressed by the former principal, Father Ajay Singh of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, which covers Kandhamal, said the recent arrest has brought some relief to Church people and riot victims. Patra led the mob that destroyed several Church institutions in Kandhamal and later went around terrorizing witnesses in the riot cases, he said.

"The arrest is good for the people and it would enhance Orissa's image, which was dented after the riots," Father Singh told UCA News.

The police have so far arrested 19 people in connection with the nun's rape case. At least 11 people have fled.

Anti-Christian violence started after the murder of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. Police blamed Maoists for the killing but Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the murder, and started a wave of violence.

In addition to the 90 people killed, the rioting displaced 50,000, also mostly Christians. The mobs also destroyed churches and convents, and set Christian homes on fire.

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Category: Church Security

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