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Activist Who Backed Assaulted Nuns Arrested And Jailed, Then Released

ICC Note: This story shows how conflicted India is in regards to Christianity – a Hindu woman who defended Catholic nuns from an attack is jailed and then released.

4/3/08 MUMBAI, India (UCAN) — A Hindu woman supporting two Catholic nuns who were assaulted last month surrendered to a court in western India, which then jailed her, only to release her within a few hours.

When Vaishali Patil, 37, was charged with abusing a tribal man, about 1,200 women, men and children, including Catholics and tribal people, came with her as she surrendered to Maharashtra state’s Alibag District Court on March 31.

Patil’s move came after police told media she was “absconding” after abusing Harichandra Naik, who had complained to police on March 20 that she abused him during the attack on two nuns several days earlier. Patil was then booked under a stringent law to protect tribal people.

Patil and Christian leaders allege that fanatic Hindus registered the “false” case to avenge Patil’s support for two nuns, Sisters Merciana Tuscano and Philomena D’Mello, who with three teenage tribal girls had been attacked by a Hindu radical group on March 15.

At the time, the Congregation of Carmelite Religious nuns were conducting women-empowerment programs in Sanghoti, a village near Alibag, headquarters of Raigad district, 120 kilometers south of Mumbai. The nuns also have a convent and a school for girls and boys in Alibag, part of Bombay archdiocese. Bombay, the former name of Mumbai, is 1,410 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.

On the day of the attack, police arrested 13 people, all followers of Hindu religious leader Narendra Maharaj, for attacking the nuns and tribal girls, but released them immediately.

Patil then joined Christian leaders and others in demanding justice for the attacked nuns. They accused police of taking a partisan stand against poor tribal people. In meetings and memorandums, they called on police to prosecute those who assaulted the nuns.

Patil recalled what happened as she spoke with UCA News on April 2: “The police knew where I was but did not arrest me. But when pressure was put on them, they declared me an absconder. So from a moral point of view, I surrendered” to the court, which then sent her to jail.

The Hindu mother of two teenage daughters maintains that the charges against her “take revenge” for her helping the Catholic nuns and 120 tribal women secure agricultural land-tenancy rights against high-caste landlords in 2003.

“The entire region is aware” of these facts, she said, so her supporters, including Catholic lay leaders, followed her to the court and jail in a march through Alibag town… [Go To Full Story – ID ID04755.1491]