India: Bihar: Jesuit Priest Murdered for Defending Dalits Land Rights


Urgent Appeal Case: UA1104
ISSUES: Caste-based discrimination,

A Jesuit priest, Fr. Anchanikal T. Thomas, 46, was murdered in the Hazaribagh District of the Indian state of Bihar. He was working with the “untouchables” or dalits in the villages for their land rights. A press statement released in Rome by the headquarters of Society of Jesus confirms that Father Thomas was kidnapped in Hazaribag on October 24 by an armed group. His beaten, battered and decapitated body was found in a river near the village of Sirka about 20 kilometers from the Hazaribagh district headquarters on Sunday 26 October 1997.

Meanwhile, another priest, Fr. Christudas, was paraded naked in Dumka District in Bihar in early September this year. In addition, two priests were killed and others were injured in Gumla in Bihar on 2 September 1996. In recent years, priests and Christian leaders have continued to suffer from violence in the state of Bihar.

The police allegedly are not properly investigating the crimes committed by upper caste people and detaining them. In fact, the National Minorities Commission severely indicted the district administration for their complicity with anti-social and communal elements in the violence committed against Fr. Christudas.

Fr. Thomas’s final moments On the morning of Friday 24 October, with his friend Fr. George, he visited a school they had built in the village of Rajhar. Later Fr.Thomas decided to go alone to Sirka about three kilometers away.

On arriving in Sirka, it is rumoured that he found a group of people dressed in police uniforms beating up one of the villagers. One of the \”police\” shouted, \”This is the man who sent me to jail.\” He was then surrounded and taken away at gunpoint. The villagers protested: \”He’s a good man. Let him go.\” It is alleged that the \”police\” were, in fact, a breakaway group of insurgents who, under the guise of a people’s movement, were extorting money from one of the villagers.

SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN BIHAR: The Bihar population of around 88 million, with a low literacy ratio of 38%, mostly landless peasants and \”dalits\” suffers from increasing human rights violations and extreme suppression. This violation are institutional such as: exploitation by landlords; violations perpetrated by people working for the landlords and supported by the corrupt police force; bonded labour; and repressive measures to counter militant or reform groups motivate to improve the livelihood of the majority peasants

Bihar is a semi-feud State where the government permits violations in areas where there are armed conflicts. Disguising this violation the security forces often present the need for countering militant activities, while the state and central authorities have permitted the use of draconian legislation and tolerated human rights abuses.

Any legislation which challenges the privileged position of the landlord, such as fair wage, trade union membership, or protection from arbitrary eviction, is ignored. An example on daily wages: in some areas of Bihar it is 4kg of rice for every working day; in Patna, Jehanabad and Gaya the wage is 2kg of rice; the low caste labourers \”dalits\” may receive 1.3 kg of rice.

The landlords have private militias who were responsible for the killing of many poor peasants, labourers, and activists. These militias take control of a village, kill the dalits connected with the peasant or worker organisation and set fire to their houses. While the militias remains in the village food and shelter would have to be provided. The militia also kidnapped the dalit women and raped often.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Eighteen months ago Fr. Thomas was sent to Manila to do further study in sociology. Just a month ago he returned to the villages around Hazaribag to complete his thesis. His studies were meant to assist the development of his work with the \”dalits\” of the villages close to Hazaribag.

Fr. Thomas was committed to the \”dalits.\” He was searching for ways to motivate the children of \”dalits\” to achieve basic literacy. The children could not properly attend local schools as their parents needed their labour.

Fr. Thomas and his companions started night schools and gradually developed a network of schools throughout the district of Hazaribag. Fr.Thomas and his teachers also sat with the village people at night to listen to the injustices they had suffered from the upper caste people. Thus, Fr. Thomas and the teachers began their involvement in the people’s struggle to seek justice.

DALIT’S ACTION FOR LAND RIGHTS: A piece of land cultivate by the \”dalit\” villagers had been unjustly seized by a upper caste group in the neighbourhood. Fr.Thomas had supported \”dalits\” in their struggle for their land right and supported their cultivation of the land.

The \”dalit\” villagers managed to win the case in court and some members of the upper caste group were imprisoned for forcible land grabbing. This was a victory for the \”dalits\” and a loss of face for the upper castes. The upper caste people went to jail, and they never forgot that Fr. Thomas is responsible for the \”dalits\” winning the land rights case.


Send protest letters and faxes stating your deep regret and concern; calling for the central government to intervene directly with the administration in the state of Bihar to urgently and adequately implement measures in the affected districts of Bihar to ensure the security of priests and the Christian community. Call on the government to recognize the underlying caste problem and therefore, request the government to implement the necessary remedies.

Address letters and faxes to: 1. President K. R. Narayan, Office of President, Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi 110 00, India. Fax: 91 11 301 7290

2. Mr. Indrajit Gupta, Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, North Block, New Delhi 110 001,India. Fax: 91 11 301 5750

3. Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, Sardar Patel Bhawan, Sansad Marg, New Delhi – 110 001, India. Fax: 91 11 334 0016

4. Director General of Police, Bihar, Patna, Bihar, India

5. Diplomatic representative of India accredited to your country

Send Solidarity letters to the Jesuits in Bihar through: Fr George Pereira, Deputy Secretary General CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE OF INDIA CBCI Centre, 1 Ashok Place, New Delhi 110 001 Fax 091 11 3344453, 091 11 3715146

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA1104
Countries : India,
Issues : Caste-based discrimination,