CNSSS welcomes the court verdict on acquittal of Fr. Dhanaswami, Sr. Maria and Ms. Kerketta

The battle is not yet over

Today the session court of Korya district of Chhattisgarh acquitted the three accused in a case that has stirred the communal attack in Sarbhoga village near Chirimiri of Korya district. Chhattisgarh Nagrik Samyukt Sangarsh Samiti (CNSSS) welcomes this decision. The court came to the conclusion that the evidences placed by the police before the court did not match with the story build.  The accuser – a minor 10-year old girl – could not identify any of the accused and thus the benefit of doubt went to the three Fr. Joseph Dhanaswami, Sr. Christo Maria and Philomina Kerketta.

The Incident

While CNSSS was battling over the case of the nun gang rape in Raipur, a case was fabricated against the management and authorities of Jyoti Mission School in Sarbhoka village ofManendragarh block of Koriya district. The village is at a distance of approximately 43 km towards west from the district headquarters at Baikunthpur. The incident was said to have happened on the night of September 8, 2015 inside the school premises.

It is a residential school with hostel facilities for both boys and girls. It has two mediums of instruction – English and Hindi. Practically the school has two campuses with a wall dividing the two between the boys and girls hostel and school. The mission school runs a free hostel for Adivasi (tribal/ indigenous) children.

Between 9th and 11th September 2015, several media reports came in both regional and national dailies on violent mobs vandalising the property of Jyoti Mission school in a village near Chirimiri and hunting the Churches of various denominations in the area. The reports also mentioned about angry mobs gathered at the gates of Jyoti Mission school, chanting vulgar slogans, wild rumours were spread to fan anti-Christian sentiment, and places of worship were attacked. The reason for these frenzied acts of violence was a complaint of sexual abuse of a young girl that assumedly happened at the school. The mob went on vandalising the Catholic church in Sarbhoga village adjoining the school premises along with two other churches in Chirimiri.

Concerned by the communal tone of the incident, the attacks on the church, and the complaint of abuse by a young girl, many religious and civil society organisations took serious note of the incidences that happened before and after it. CNSSS initiated a fact finding not only due to the attack on Christian minority but at large due to the involvement of a girl child which again is sensitive as well as a key concern for the Samiti. CNSSS fact-finding team was of the opinion that it was a clear case with malice intention only to prevent the fight to catch the perpetrators of attacks on Christian community and institutions. Spread of fear and rumours were the intentions behind the violent attacks. The right wing political party and their larger organisational network were clearly behind this attack under the slogan of ‘protect Hindutva’.

Welcoming Judgement

While the trial court examined all possible options placed before it by the investigation agency, no evidence co-related to prove the involvement of any of the three. Earlier in September 2015, the trial court gave bail to Sr. Christo Maria, however rejected the bail plea of both Fr. Joseph Dhanaswami and Ms. Philomina Kerketta. Even the High Court twice rejected the bail application of both Dhanaswami and Kerketta. Yet this judgment has been encouraging and has tried to reinstate some faith in judiciary among the ordinary citizen from small socio-religious groups.

Concerns alive

The said issue was raised to attack the school and church as well as spread fear psyche among the inmate students and teachers. It was also a means to send a message on to the rest of the Christian believer and this remains as a key concern. In the recent past, there have been several incidents of attack on minorities across the length and breadth of Chhattisgarh. While in some cases these were directed on the places of worship directly, in others it were a direct assault of persons who run these churches, attack on worship places, beating up believers, where sexual abuse and exploitation of children in schools have been used as a strategy against Christians.

In Chirimiri soon after the incident of Sarbhoka, Bersheba church was vandalised along with the beating of pastor and churchgoers. The Jacobite church close-by in Chirimiri was also damaged. In March 2016 year a prayer home in Kachna area of Raipur was attacked by members of Bajrang Dal while the pastor was conducting the Sunday worship. Several other incidences of non-resisted riots against Christian minorities have been going on.

The concerns are also alive for the fact that the perpetrators of Church and school vandalisation are still scoot-free. When would they be punished? The FIR registered against the mob has been still under the purview of the session’s court. This year India has to face the universal periodic review on the status of minorities and it would be interesting how these instances would be placed before the United Nations.

Dr. Goldy M. George


Dharamraj Mahapatra, Sakir Qureshi, Vishnu Baghel, Durga, Deepika, Akhilesh Edgar, Anju Meshram

(Members of the Coordination Committee of CNSSS)