The High Court of central India’s Madhya Pradesh state has given clean chit to a Catholic bishop and five others in a nine-year-old religious conversion case. There is “no sufficient evidence to frame the charges against the petitioners,” says the order by the principal bench headed by Justice S K Gangele. The April 11 order was released to the media on April 20. The court based at Jabalpur acquitted Bishop Mathew Vaniakizhakkel of Satna (now retired), two priests, a nun and two others who work in the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Catholic diocese. The six were accused of converting a Hindu woman to Christianity and then marrying her off to a Christian man in May 2009.
The case was filed after a Catholic, Christopher Pavy, complained to the police and sought action against the Church people. Madhya Pradesh is among the Indian states with stringent anti-conversion laws. Such conversions, without proper approval of the government agency, are a punishable offence. Although the police’s preliminary probe could not find evidence to support the allegation, they registered the case allegedly under political pressure.
Father Jolly Kannukodan, one of the accused priests, said despite many hurdles they managed to defend their innocence at every level. “We were sure that the truth will triumph one day,” the priest told Matters India. The other accused were vicar general George Mangalapally, Sacred Heart Sister Pauly, principal of Christ Jyoti Senior Secondary School, Thomas Varghese, a teacher, and Monica Moses, who allegedly converted to Christianity after marriage.
As the trial progressed in the trial court, the prosecution failed to prove the alleged conversion charge. But still the prosecution tried to “prosecute us for another alleged offences of conspiracy and disturbing communal harmony,” Father Kannukodan said. The accused then moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking direction to quash the charges against them. Finally the appellate court allowed their petition and discharged them from all the charges, the priest said.
The High Court said further in its order, “The trial court and revisional court did not consider the evidence produced by the prosecution properly. Consequently the petition is allowed. The charges framed against the petitioners are hereby quashed. The criminal prosecution of the petitioners for commission of offence 120-B and 295 –A is also hereby quashed.”
The prelate and others were on bail after they were all booked under the non-bailable Sections of the anti-conversion law. “We are grateful to the Almighty and the court for upholding the truth,” Father Kannukodan said with a deep sigh. The bishop had taken voluntary retirement on health reasons in August 2014. At the time of filing the case the bishop told the media that the case was “totally fabricated” as part of “a motivated campaign to discredit the Church for helping the disadvantaged sections in society.”
Rajesh Chand, the prelate’s lawyer, told Matters India on April 21 that the bishop and others have the legal right to institute a defamation suit against the complainant for implicating them in a totally false case. However, the Church leaders said they did want any further legal battle. “We don’t want revenge,” Father Kannukodan added. (Source: Matters India)