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Church siege

Jhabua ( MP), Jan. 14: A backlash against the rape and murder of a child became an attack on a Catholic establishment in Jhabua bordering Gujarat, forcing police to evacuate a priest, a school principal and nuns to a safe place, reports our special correspondent.

A 1,000-strong mob pelted stones at the school and manhandled the officials of the Catholic Mission School, protesting against the death of a 9-year-old girl on Sunday. Sujata, the daughter of a fruit-seller, was raped on the premises of the school and the church.

The crowd, led by local Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Khum Singh Maharaj, demanded action against the school and church authorities who have denied any involvement in the tragedy.

The protesters alleged that the rapist had lured the girl into the complex telling her that a nun wanted to buy fruits. The culprit has not yet been caught.

Throughout today, the police tried in vain to disperse the crowd, prompting them to summon additional forces from Dhar and Indore nearby.

By evening, the mood had turned nasty and the police whisked Father John Sunni and school principal Divya Nathan to safety.

Word soon spread that the priest and school authorities have been arrested. A quick denial followed, prompting the mob to continue the siege late into the night.

The once-peaceful Jhabua, a tribal district, had shot in notoriety in recent years on account of frequent incidents of attacks on Christian missionaries.

A week ago, “miscreants” from the neighbouring Gujarat had tried to burn down a place of worship in Jhabua, protesting against a reported incident of religious conversion. Chief minister Uma Bharti had instructed the police to probe the incident.

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