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Sister Nirmala caught in highway heist

Ranchi, Feb. 21: Sister Nirmala, the superior-general of the Missionaries of Charity, and several priests and nuns accompanying her drove into a hold- up near Amjharia in Latehar district this morning but escaped unhurt after parting with cash.

Over a dozen armed miscreants had put up a road block and were looting all passing vehicles when the unsuspecting convoy of Sister Nirmala, who was returning from Daltonganj, got caught in the heist.

Father Anthony Xavier, who was driving Sister Nirmala in a jeep, had to part with all the cash he was carrying which was Rs 1,000. But Father Albert Lakra, director of the Social Development Institute, Chandwa, who was driving another vehicle, got away by handing over Rs 500.

Those who resisted were manhandled, but the nuns were spared, said Father Lakra. Many of the miscreants, he added, had put on masks and were armed with daggers and firearms.

Sources at Mother House, the headquarters of the organisation founded by Blessed Teresa in Calcutta, said Sister Nirmala was safe and would return to the city on March 5.

Sister Nirmala, who was born in Ranchi, is visiting Jharkhand after nearly three decades.

Taking advantage of the lack of provision for highway patrolling during daytime, the dacoits enjoyed a free run on the road for one-and-a-half hours from around 8 am, looting at least 40 vehicles, including 11 local buses and a long-distance state transport bus travelling from Gumla to Varanasi, reports said.

The miscreants forced Sister Nirmala to open the door of the jeep and asked the nuns to hand over everything they had. Even when she pleaded with them, they insisted on searching the vehicles.

Claims from Daltonganj that some of the miscreants threatened her were not confirmed by the Bishop’s House here.

On her return to Ranchi, Sister Nirmala briefed Cardinal Telesphore Toppo about the incident and lamented that people were being robbed and harassed by their own folks.

Latehar superintendent of police M.S. Bhatia confirmed the hold-up but till late in the evening he was not aware that Sister Nirmala too was a victim.

“I do not know exactly. A common complaint has been lodged with the police. We are conducting raids,” he said.

Halt-and-heist operations around the Amjharia valley are a chronic problem due to the hilly terrain and poor road conditions, he said.

Dense forests on both sides of the road facilitated easy escape and the winding road allowed the criminals a clear view of approaching vehicles.

Some officials explained that police patrolling is rare on the stretch as Naxalites are active in the area and often plant landmines along the road.

Another hold-up was reported from the same spot on Friday evening, after which a CRPF contingent has rushed to the area, claimed the officials.

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