21 September 2023, The Tablet

Suicide of Indian priest after ‘Pray for Manipur’ post

Bishop James Athikalam of Sagar said that the diocese did not know “what made him take such an extreme step”.

Suicide of Indian priest after ‘Pray for Manipur’ post

Demonstrators attend a prayer rally and candlelight service for peace in the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur at DDSC Stadium in Dimapur, in the north-eastern state of Nagaland.
Caisii Mao / Alamy

A Catholic priest in India has taken his own life after a police complaint was filed against him when he shared a WhatsApp message about the gang-rape of Christian women in Manipur.

Fr Anil Francis, 40, was accused of insulting the national flag after he shared an image depicting a woman wrapped in the colours of the Indian flag being held by two men, with a mob behind them.

The accompanying caption read: “Wounded Manipur: two women paraded naked, gang-raped, not one arrested since two months. We are ashamed. When will peace prevail? Pray for Manipur.”

The post referred to a video recorded in May showing two Christian women paraded naked on a public road and sexually assaulted by a mob of men in the north-eastern state of Manipur. The video sparked widespread outrage after going viral in July.

Fr Francis, a Syro-Malabar priest, had come to the bishop’s house in Sagar, in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India on 13 September.  

He went missing after failing to attend a prayer meeting at the house the following day and his body was found later. In a suicide note, he expressed a wish for his body to be cremated.

Bishop James Athikalam of Sagar said that the diocese did not know “what made him take such an extreme step”.

Fr Jose Malekudy, the judicial vicar for Sagar diocese told The News Minute that Fr Francis had posted the WhatsApp message last month, saying: “A former student from Udaipura, where he worked as a principal for six years, along with members of [the Hindu Nationalist] Sangh Parivar groups, saw his WhatsApp post and filed a criminal defamation complaint stating that he insulted the national flag,”

He added: “That post did not have anything against the national flag. Even the police were not ready to register the case, but they were pressured by certain groups. But no further actions were taken in the case.”

A minority in Manipur, Christians have become caught up in severe ethnic violence in the state.

More than 120 Christians have been among those killed in the last three months, while approximately 400 churches and 4,500 Christian homes and properties have reportedly been destroyed.

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