Church grieves murder of activist nun who led tribal fight

Published 17 November 2011  |  
Church leaders have expressed shock at the murder of a Catholic nun who advocated for the rights of tribal people in Jharkhand.

Sr Valsa John was hacked to death by 40 to 50 unknown persons at Bachuwari village of Pakur district on Tuesday.

The 52-year-old nun was campaigning for tribal people displaced by coal mining companies in Jharkhand state.

Pakur's police superintendent Amarnath Khanna told AFP she was hacked to death while sleeping at home late on Tuesday night.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) today strongly condemned the killing and expressed "deep grief", requesting prayers for the bereaved family of Sr John.

The general secretary, Rev. Richard Howell, appealed to authorities to take immediate action against the perpetrators of crime and safe guard the rights of the minority communities living in the area.

Archbishop of Ranchi, Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo remarked that the murder of Sr John was a "shame for all of us in Jharkhand". She left her family and friends at faraway Kerala to work amongst the poor and downtrodden in the remote Pakur district, he said.

While Maoists pamphlets were found at the site of killing, police believe it could be only to mislead investigators.

Bishop Julius Marandi of Dumka says Sr John worked in a trouble area and it was difficult to say who was responsible for the murder.

He spoke of the nun as a person with total dedication to the cause and love for the people she worked with.

Her younger brother told media that Sr John was facing threats from the "mining mafia" that were forcing tribal people off their land.

John worked with tribal communities in Jharkhand, particularly the Santhal tribe.

For over 15 years she was leading an agitation 'Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan', protesting against forcible acquisition of tribals' lands for Pachuara coal project undertaken by Punjab State Electricity Board and Eastern Mineral Trading Company.

In December 2006, the nun had had succeeded in making the coal mining company agree to pay the compensation the agitators were demanding.

Reacting to the murder, the secretary of the tribal desk at the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), Dr Hrangthan Chhungi said, "The news is absolutely shocking. She was only a social activist fighting for tribal rights."

"Authorities must conduct a thorough investigation to prosecute and punish those responsible for the crime. Also, immediate protection must be given to other people who are demanding the return of their lands and are fighting against large corporations," she said.

The Human Rights Watch called for an urgent investigation and said the government must take into account the repeated attacks on civil society activists.

National Secretary of Conference of Religious India, Bro. Mani Mekkunnel, commented: "The one lakh and thirty thousand religious of India are with her in this sacrifice. We are with her family and congregation at this moment of sorrow. Let it strengthen the commitment of thousands of others for the poor and marginalized of our country."

Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda on Thursday said investigation already began into the killing and a separate probe would be instituted if required.

Sr John was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary congregation for the last 24 years. She was laid to rest at St. Paul's Church, Dudhani on Thursday, in the presence of family members and hundreds of friends and followers.

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