INDIA: Religious intolerance and communal violence in Jhabua, India

Dear Friends 

We are forwarding you an appeal from Hotline Asia regarding the tragic rape and murder of a 9 year old girl, which incident was used to provoke religious intolerance and violence against the Christian minority in Jhabua, India. Please read the short account of the incident and take the action requested. 

Urgent Appeals Desk 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)



3 February 2004

A young girl was found raped and murdered in the Catholic Mission compound
in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, Central India on 11 January. Groups associated
with the fundamentalist Hindu Jagaran Manch blamed the crime on the Church,
and instigated a series of attacks on Church personnel and premises. Even
after a non-Christian admitted to the crime, the violence against the
Christian minority continued.

The tragic death of the girl was apparently used to pursue an anti-minority
agenda using methods that local human rights activists compare to events in
the neighboring Gujarat in 2002.


Jhabua is a district in the state of Madhya Pradesh, to the eastern border
of Gujarat, adjacent to Godhra. Although the first Catholic mission started
in 1892, the diocese of Jhabua only has 30,000 members out of the 1,400,000
population of Jhabua district. The Catholic community is made up of Bhil
tribals, and the descendants of early embracers of Christianity constitute
more than half of the current Catholic population. There have been no
conversions in the last decade.

Alirajpur is 15 km away from the Gujarat border and Amkhut is 60 kms away
from Jhabua.

Chronology of Events:

On 11 January 2004, a fruit vendor went to Jhabua Parish and informed the
priests: “My son tells me that in the evening a young man came to our cart,
bought some fruits and then asked my daughter to go with him so that he
would get the cash from the Sister in the Convent. My 9-year-old daughter
went with that man to get the cash. I had gone to buy some vegetables and
when I came back my son informed me about it. When my daughter did not
return even after a long time, I have come to search for my daughter in the
Mission Compound.” The assistant priest helped to search for the girl.
When the father found the dead body of his child in the school toilet, he
told the priest-in-charge who immediately informed the Superintendent of
Police, Jhabua, and the investigation process began.

The next day, classes at the school continued as usual. Around 90 percent
of the students of this school are non-Christians.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Sangh Parivar declared 13 January a day
of protest, apparenty accusing the Christians/Church and headmaster of the
school of the crime. Some groups related to the Sangh Parivar held
processions in different towns, burned the effigies of the Bishop and
priests in public places, shouted slogans and distributed inflammatory
leaflets against Christianity. The Parish Priest, Assistant Parish Priest,
2 Regents of Jhabua Parish and the Principal of Jhabua Mission School were
detained at the Police Station to give statements, along with some Catholic
boys who had been detained since Sunday, 11 January.

On 14 January, some people made a tent and started gathering outside the
Catholic Mission School. A large crowd forcibly entered the campus and
started manhandling the priests and others inside. Around ten priests, who
had come to Jhabua to meet the Home Minister as a delegation, and to give a
memorandum, were present and were beaten up. The mob pelted stones at the
building and destroyed vehicles parked in the campus. The Superintendent of
Police and the police force tried to control the crowd but were outnumbered.

People dispersed after some time, but towards the evening, a crowd of more
than a thousand people gathered around the mission compound and started to
throw stones. The administration, sensing that things were getting worse,
took the occupants of the campus to a safe place. People started to pelt
stones at the police vehicle. The 10 Sisters and 75 girls boarding at the
school were taken away to safe places and the 10 priests were taken to the
police station. By night, the Inspector General from Indore reached Jhabua
with more personnel. There were rumours that a few more Missions would be

On 15 January, as a sign of protest at what had happened, and to sympathize
with Church personnel who were suffering physically, mentally and
emotionally, the Bishop of Jhabua closed all institutions of the diocese.
The Home Minister of the state visited the district and made a statement
that seemed to accuse the Christian missionaries of the crime. The crowds
continued to pelt stones at the church.

By evening, the District Magistrate called representatives from the town for
a peace meeting. The people had an opportunity to clear differences and
false impressions and suggest means to establish peace and harmony. The
Bishop took part in the peace meeting and met the priests in custody. By
the end of the day, the police succeeded in identifying the culprit, who
admitted to the crime. He worked in an office near the Church and is not a

The priests and other persons detained as suspects were released on 16
January. That same day a few sadhvis (female disciples) from Gujarat led by
Krishna Behn, disciples of Asaram Bapu, went to the village of Amkhut, 60km
from Jhabua. After a discourse against conversions, Krishna Behn led a
procession to the premises of the Church of North India (CNI) mission. The
CNI church was built in 1914 and most of the villagers in this predominantly
Christian village are second or third generation converts from the Bhil
tribe. The sadhvis, accompanied by a police officer who stood outside as
they entered the campus, raised slogans against Christians, distributed
inflammatory material, went into classrooms where examinations were being
conducted and tore down posters of Jesus. The entire village gathered at
the mission premises and pelted the sadhvis with stones, forcing them to

When this news reached Alirajpur, a neighbouring town 29 km away, several
armed men led by the local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alirajpur
rushed to Amkhut (which is not in his constituency). Bhil Christians were
injured and one of the vehicles was ambushed. One of the people with the
MLA was killed in the fight.

When news of this attack reached Alirajpur an unruly mob of VHP and
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) men attacked churches and Christian homes in
the town.

Fr. Stanny Ferreira, a Catholic Priest, manager of Don Bosco School at
Alirajpur, was brutally beaten with sticks and iron rods resulting in
serious injuries. He was returning by jeep from Jhabua when, on nearing
Alirajpur, he noticed huge crowds of agitated youngsters armed with sticks,
stones, iron rods and even guns. They chased the jeep shouting, “beat him
up, burn him”. The jeep was shot at and the driver lost control hitting an
electric pole. The driver escaped, but the crowd attacked the priest and
beat him up. The vehicle was set ablaze. Fr. Stanny sought refuge in the
home of a Hindu student of Don Bosco School. When the police in a nearby
police station, heard about the incident, they rushed to the spot, took the
priest into protective custody and had his injuries treated.

The mob moved towards Don Bosco School, calling for burning of the school
premises. Unable to enter due to the quick response from the police, they
attacked houses of the Christians in the town and set some on fire. The
police did their best to control the situation, but were outnumbered by the
mob. Later the Rapid Action Force was deployed in sensitive areas.

The mob then went to the property and farm owned by Don Bosco School on the
outskirts of Alirajpur, hacked down trees, vandalized the fencing, the pump
house and the drip irrigation system. The school had to be shut down as
parents and staff members were threatened not to report to school. It was
re-opened on 27 January.

An On-going Campaign

Church sources say that there has been a slow sustained campaign against the
Church and its activities over a period of years.
Although the identity of the criminal at the Mission compound was clearly
established, the protests, misinformation and mass mobilization led by the
Hindu Jagaran Manch, and supported by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrangdal and
Durga Vahini and other Sangh Parivar associated groups, continued. It is
believed that their aim was to try to turn tribals against Christians and
missionaries. The methods used were compared by local human rights activists
to events in Gujarat following the Godhra incident of February 2002.

Church sources fear that the campaign of harassment is not over. The recent
installation of a Chief Minister who had earlier been known for her
extremist views, and the transfer of top police officials who acted swiftly
in these incidents is giving rise to concern among local people.

*** Please respond before 27 February 2004***


Please write polite letters expressing concern over the attacks on
institutions and persons of the minority Christian community. Request the
investigation of these events and prosecution of perpetrators, and ask the
Central Government to ensure the provision of security to minorities.

Send letters to:

1. Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India
South Block, Raisana Hill, New Delhi, INDIA.
Fax: (91) 11 301 68757/3019545,
(91) 11301 9334 (residence)

2. Shri Digvijay Singh,
Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh
Vallabh Bhavan
Madhya Pradesh

Fax 91-755-540 501; +91-755-551781

3. Justice A. S. Anand

The Chairman, National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhuvan, 1st Floor, Parliament Street,
New Delhi, INDIA.
Fax: (91) 11 3340016 / 336 6537 / 334 4113

4. Office of High Commission of Human Rights
8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva, 10, SWITZERLAND
Fax 41 22 917 9011

5. Diplomatic representatives of India in your country


We are shocked at the events that followed the rape and murder of a minor in
Jhabua district on 11 January 2004. It appears that this tragic incident
has been used by fundmentalist groups to pursue an anti-minority agenda
resulting in violence against Christian people and institutions.

As a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political
Rights, the Central Government has a duty to ensure that the rights of
minorities (Art. 27) to freedom of religion (Art. 18), personal security
(Art. 8) and equal protection of the law (Art. 26) are protected. We urge
the government to conduct an investigation into the attacks on the Christian
minority in Jhabua and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

We ask the Central Government to ensure the provision of security to all
minorities, including Christian institutions, across the country. Following
the carnage at Gujarat and the violence at Jhabua, minorities fear for their
safety. We were distressed to hear that top police officials who acted
swiftly to address these incidents in their areas, have been transferred.
Rather than being punished, such officials should be commended for doing
their duty in difficult circumstances.

*** Please avoid typing ‘cc ACPP’ at the end of your letter and send copies
to us separately for monitoring purpose. Thank You for Your Continued

Sandie Cornish
Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples

Urgent Appeals Desk

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Document Type : Forwarded Urgent Appeal
Document ID : FA-03-2004
Countries : India,
Issues : Freedom of religion,