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Row over MCC-link slur on missionaries

Balmikinagar, June 15: Tension has been brewing here in the serene woods bordering Nepal following police allegations linking the missionaries and converted Oraon tribals with the Maoist Communist Centre.

Workers at missions are in a panic after police detained two priests and questioned them for two hours on May 27.

One priest, an Oraon tribal, has reportedly been asked by Ramnagar deputy superintendent of police Rajkishore Singh to close his office and leave. Police have so far picked up over 100 converted Oraon tribals, allegedly torturing them during a night-long detention.

Singh has allegedly accused the missionaries of helping the MCC and has said the police would not allow Champaran to be turned into another Jehanabad. Jehanabad witnessed a bloodbath in the 1990s following heightened Naxalite activities.

Bishop Victor Henry Thakur of Bettiah diocese in West Champaran district reacted to allegations of MCC links by saying: “Missionaries working for the deprived in remote areas of West Champaran are being maliciously targeted and discredited by certain vested interests.”

Mission workers were all the more angry on learning that West Champaran superintendent of police Ratan Sanjay has written to his seniors about the alleged MCC links.

West Champaran police have launched a crackdown on the MCC’s terror apparatus following a spurt in killings. The Naxalites are believed to be behind the killings of Bharat Yadav and Bhola Mian at Charapapur Banbar village on the night of May 24 while the two were returning from a BJP meeting in an adjoining village.

Two months ago, the MCC allegedly blasted the house of a landlord at Ratanpurwa. Vijay Singh, a member of the landlord’s family, was murdered recently.

Police say there have been at least 25 killings in the last year.

MCC activity in the jungles here had been low-key until recently. Operations were started by Oso, a Jawaharlal Nehru University student in the mid 1990s, who was later arrested and is still in jail.

Of late, a revamped MCC has championed the cause of Oraon and Tharu tribals and has got a new leader, Sangma, who reportedly hails from the northeast.

The missionaries appear to be caught between the Naxalites and the police. They first faced flak when two colleagues — Hilasius Kujur, director of the Ratanpur mission, and Tony Peuda of the Adivasi Sabha mission — were named in an FIR filed over the May 24 murders.

How their names crept into the FIR is a mystery, for the person who filed the complaint says he did not mention their names.

The deputy inspector-general of police, Bettiah, C.R. Casavan, says the missionaries’ names may have crept into the FIR due to groupism. “I am not sure about the involvement of missionaries. They have been doing good work for the poor for decades,” he said.

Inspector-general of police Jaswant Malhotra echoed his sentiments.

Adding another dimension to the problem is a group of social workers affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra allegedly launched a campaign over the missionaries’ supposed links with the MCC even before police had completed their investigation. A section of the local media aired their allegations, missionaries allege.

Bishop Thakur says: “This is too big a cost for working towards the empowerment of impoverished tribals and Dal- its. Today, two priests stand accused of working with a Maoist outfit to turn tribals into Naxalites and the land into a modern Jehanabad.”

But SP Sanjay admits having written to his seniors about the missionaries’ possible MCC links.

With things hotting up in the otherwise peaceful jungle, many tribes are moving out due to fear of reprisals.

Father Joe, a mission director, says: “The situation in the jungles of Balmikinagar resembles the situation in Surguja district of the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh in 1998-99 when priests faced a vicious RSS campaign.”

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