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Church Groups Upset As Police Attack Tribal Protestants

ICC Note: Christians trying to register a complaint against a man with a fake teaching certificate are instead beaten by police.

8/20/07 India (UCAN) — Christians in an eastern Indian town are upset that no action has been taken against policemen who allegedly beat several Protestants including a pastor.

“We will continue our protest until the policemen are arrested,” Bishop Hemant Hansda of Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church (GEL) told UCA News Aug. 20.

He said all Christian denominations and all tribal groups in Jharkhand state condemn the incident and support the stir for justice. The Protestant prelate also said Church people view the incident as another example of oppression of tribal people by outsiders.

The incident occurred on Aug. 8, when GEL Pastor Basant Kumar Barla and three others went to Arkhi police station to complain against a Hindu using a bogus college certificate for a teaching job in a local Church-run school.

Arkhi, some 60 kilometers south of Ranchi , is a village near Jharkhand state’s Khunti town. Ranchi , the state capital, is 1,160 kilometers southeast of New Delhi .

Pastor Barla, 56, heads the GEL parish based in Arkhi and is secretary of its middle school, where Siyasharan Prasad taught using the fake certificate.

School authorities verify teachers’ certificates, as directed by the state education department, the pastor told UCA News. The department ordered the verification of all teachers after it received many complaints about teachers with false certificates.

On finding Prasad’s certificate false, the pastor went to the police station accompanied by headmaster John Mundu, teacher Mary Bodra and tribal leader Samuel Purti.

The station in-charge, Ram Awadh Singh, refused to accept their first information report. The police then abused them and beat them with batons, Pastor Barla said. All four received severe injuries.

On hearing of the incident, local people came to the station and took the Christians to a hospital, the pastor continued. But police did not allow them to take Purti, saying he was under arrest for disrupting work in the station. Later, Purti was sent to a local jail.

The police arrested Purti on false allegations, Pastor Barla charged. “He came to the police station just to help us. He is our local leader and a well-wisher of our school. He neither disrupted the work of the police nor quarreled with any constable.”

Singh, however, denied attacking the Christians and instead accused Purti and the others of using abusive language. Purti was arrested for beating a constable, the police official told UCA News Aug. 17.

Singh and Prasad are natives of Bihar state. Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000 with the stated purpose of helping tribal people’s socioeconomic advance.

On Aug. 11, about 25,000 Catholics and Protestants took out a silent procession in Khunti to protest the police action. Students and teachers of all the town’s Christian schools joined the procession. It started from the Catholic cathedral premises and ended in a local college compound.

Bishop Nelson Lakra, who heads the GEL Church as its moderator, accused the state government of being powerless to stop policemen form “mercilessly” beating “innocent people” and then protecting the culprits.

Father Hilarius Barla, vicar general of Khunti Catholic diocese, joined the protest. He told UCA News the attack proved “outsider” policemen “have no respect for tribal people or even for Christian clergy.”

Marcel Barla, a Catholic tribal leader, lamented Bihari policemen working in Jharkhand. They have no respect for Christian clergy, and “go to any extent” to protect their people, he said.

He warned of a strong tribal stir if the government fails to take action against the erring policemen. He recalled a 2001 incident where Bihari police fire killed eight tribal people.

“They were all Bihari policemen,” he added, “and since then we have demanded the government not deploy outside police officers and constables in tribal areas.”

Barla is a common tribal name. The pastor, vicar general and Catholic tribal leader in the story are not related.