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After facing pressure from the Church, Madras HC judge withdraws his observation on sexual abuse in Christian institutions

There has been a dangerous trend of repeated rapes and other abusive incidents at Churches across the world. Unfortunately, India is not immune to this plague either.

In what appears to be worrying signs, the Christian associations in Tamil Nadu along with radical left organisations seems to have unleashed its pressure over a Madras High Court judge to withdraw his observation made during the hearing of the sexual assault case.

According to the reports, Justice S Vaidyanathan of the Madras High Court was hearing a sexual harassment case against professor Samuel Tennyson of the Madras Christian College. Samuel Tennyson is accused of sexually abusing over 30 third year zoology students in the college. Justice S Vaidyanathan had observed that there was an impression among the parents that Christian institutions were highly unsafe for the girl child.

The judge also noted that the Christian missionaries were always under limelight due to activities like forced conversion. “Though they impart good education, their preaching of morality will be a million-dollar question,” the judge had observed.

Following that, several Christian groups including the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council (TNBC), the Tamil Nadu Latin Bishops’ Council (TNLBC) and the Indian Christian Association of Tamil Nadu along with radical left-wing organisations like the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) expressed ‘concern’ over that observation.

Further, on Tuesday, the counsel for the Christian college mentioned before the court that the comments of the judge were uncalled for and had no connections with the case.

In a statement issued on Monday, TNBC and TNLBC said two of Justice Vaidyanathan’s observations, that there were “several accusations against Christians for indulging in compulsory conversion of people of other religions into Christianity” and that there was a “general feeling among the parents of female students that co-educational studies in Christian institutions are highly unsafe for the future of their children” are regrettable and unwarranted.

As pressure began to mount, Justice Vaidyanathan had to agree to delete the relevant paragraph from his verdict in a case. Accepting the submissions, the judge declared that he would withdraw the observations in para 32 of the order.

There has been a dangerous trend of repeated rapes and other abusive incidents at Churches across the world. Unfortunately, India is not immune to this plague either. Christian priests and churches, like most cases worldwide, have been targeting the poor, destitute for their crimes but the cases go unnoticed.

However, in India, the crimes have been coming into public domain lately. There have been several incidents of sexual harassment and other abuse by Church officials and priests.

In 2011, a heartbreaking case had come to light in Guntur when a local church priest was accused of setting a minor girl on fire after sexually abusing her for over a year. The girl succumbed to her injuries after suffering 90% burns. In 2010, a priest named Habib Joesph was arrested for alleged sexual abuse of a minor. The sister of the minor girl had died in the same institution a year earlier.

In 2013, an illegal shelter home housing dozens of children from extremely poor families in North-Eastern India was reported in Jaipur. One girl had accused priest Jacob John of rape and as many as 13 girls were suspected to have been sexually abused by the priest.

In 2018,  a 45-year-old pastor was booked for brutally raping an 11-year old girl in Vallampadu, Andhra Pradesh. In July 2017, Father Saji Joesph, a priest who was the director of a children’s home in Kerala’s Wayanad district, was arrested after allegations of sexually abusing minor boys.

Franco Mulakkal, a Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar, was arrested and released on bail later for allegedly raping a 44-year old nun at a guest house in Kuravilangad in May 2014.

Similarly, Father Johnson V Mathew, a priest of Malankara Orthodox church was accused in the rape and sexual abuse of a married woman belonging to the fold was arrested in July 2018.

In February, the Mysuru police had arrested three pastors (religious leaders associated with protestant Churches) for allegedly raping a teenager in Mangaluru. All the three Christian priests have now been charged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, as per reports.

In another incident, a 60-year-old pastor named Chandra Kumar belonging to a local church in Nagaland was arrested for allegedly raping a 10-year-old girl in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district.

In another incident, a 33-year old Catholic priest, Father Prakash Damor was arrested in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh for abetting a 17-year-old girl’s suicide.

Recently, a special Mahila Court in Cuddalore had sentenced a church priest to 30 years in prison and nine others to life in prison for their involvement in the horrifying 2014 Tittakudi rape case, which involved two minor girls.

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