Coimbatore (Matters India): A Catholic priest and three lay persons were hospitalized after a mob attacked them in Coimbatore, an industrial city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
On February 1, officials of Ramanathapuram Syro Malabar diocese met S.P. Velumani, state minister for Rural Development who was in Coimbatore, to demand action against the attackers.
The minister described the January 28 incident as communal and an attempt to unite Hindus ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Coimbatore on February 2, Diocesan public relations officer (PRO) Fr Johnson Veeppattuparambil, who was in the team that met the minister, told Matters India.
According to the PRO, a group of 35 young people, suspected to be members of rightwing Hindu groups, beat Fr. Jose Kannumkuzhy and three members of Diocesan Pastoral Council, when they had gone to Assisi Snehalaya (abode of love) in Ettimada, 20 km south of Coimbatore, to enquire about a death of a child in that center for HIV/AIDS patients.
The child’s death had led to protests by local people, who alleged that the center was not attending to their patients properly.
Fr Kannumkuzhy, who is the diocese’s procurator, and the lay people who were identified only as Lijo, Joseph and Stanley, were admitted to K G Hospital on the same day of the attack. The 49-year-old priest continues to be in the intensive care unit. The three lay people were discharged on January 31, the PRO said.
The 49-year-old priest, who is also the parish priest of St Sebastian’s Church, Arappara, is under trauma as he suffered serious head injuries. “He is still unconscious and often cries not to attack him. It will take time for him to recover,” Fr Veeppattuparambil said.
“We are under shock. We could never image such a barbaric incident would take place in this part of the country,” the PRO said to explain the diocese’s delay in going public on the attack. “We did not want to further escalate the situation,” he added.
Narrating the attack, the PRO said Fr Kannumkuzhy and team had gone to Ettimadai police station as part of their probe and were asked to wait outside.
As they were sitting in their car, the mob appeared suddenly and started attacking them. The Church team sped in their car, but the mob followed them and caught up with them as they entered a national highway. Lijo, who was driving the car, approached police jeep to seek help. However, the policemen refused to intervene.
The mob then attacked the priest and his companions with granite stones lying there. They tore the priest’s cassock and punched him. As he fell down they kicked them viciously. “They were made to walk nearly 2.5 kilometers. The attackers asked the Church team to call on their Jesus to protect them,” the PRO added.
The Catholic religious order, Franciscan Conventuals, started Assisi Snehalaya in 2004 as a care and support home as well as research center for people affected by HIV/AIDS.
A note from the center says at least 40 percent of its expenses are met by the local community and rest from their parental organization.
The local community meets 40 percent of the center’s total expenses,
“We do have a good number of visitors, who become donors after they experience the life and mission of Snehalaya,” the note says.
The priests also claimed that there was no “black mark” on their management of the center for the past 12 years. “Rather the testimony of the people, who visited us, made their sincere impressions in out visitors dairy. It is indeed quite unfortunate to see the evil minds behind this baseless allegations. We still do believe in the truth and time will prove the sincere and selfless efforts of those who are involved in this mission,” they added.