20 June 2000

Mathura's Christians see pattern in violence

20 June 2000
The Times of India

Mathura's Christians see pattern in violence

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

NAWADA: Two recent incidents have unnerved Mathura's small Christian
community. Those who were inclined to see Brother George's murder as a
chance event are today convinced -- after his cook Vijay Ekka died in
police custody -- that Christian institutions are being deliberately
targeted by criminal elements. They feel the BJP-led state government
is either not doing enough to uphold the rule of law or is tacitly
endorsing the attacks by its inaction.

One visit to the St Francis Public School in this small village on the
outskirts of Mathura, and it is clear that Brother George Kuzhikandan
never stood a chance. A gentle Malayali priest and teacher, he lay
sleeping on a cot outside the boys' hostel in the early hours of June
7 when he was set upon by a gang of five or six men - no one is really
sure how many. The deserted school compound was unguarded and unlit.
Even if he had tried to shout for help, the roar of the trucks
speeding past on NH-2 would have drowned out his cries. The men
battered him and then ransacked the school, before decamping with a
few electronic items and possibly as much as Rs 30,000 in cash,
according to Brother Emanuel, the school principal.

The only other people in the compound at the time were a young couple,
Ekka and his wife. Ekka was the school cook. The window of his small
flat directly opens out in front of the spot where George was attacked
and it is difficult to imagine that he did not see what was going on.
Perhaps he chose to remain silent because he was scared. Perhaps he
knew the identity of the killers. All we know for sure is that Vijay
is now dead. One week after taking him in for questioning - during
which, according to Brother Emanuel, he was asked why he had converted
to Christianity - he was ``found'' slumped on the toilet seat of a
bathroom in Mathura's police lines. The post-mortem has established
the cause of death to be ``asphyxia due to strangulation.''

An official with the local administration told this reporter, on
condition of anonymity, that in all probability Vijay had been killed
in custody. Two policemen have been arrested and a judicial probe has
been announced by the UP government.

The brutal beating of a priest in neighbouring Kosikalan in April and
two recent incidents in which attempts were made to intimidate
church-run schools in Mathura into granting admissions, reducing fees
and passing students who had failed in their exams point towards this

Whether true or not, both priests and members of the laity see Vijay's
custodial killing as a ham-handed attempt by the police to cover up
the Brother George case. A senior police official, however, speaking
on condition of anonymity, dismissed such a scenario. ``Even if an
inspector wanted to eliminate him, he would be foolish to do so while
he was in custody.'' If Ekka was killed in custody, he said, this was
most probably because the interrogating officer miscalculated the
degree of third-degree. ``An officer had been suspended because he did
not solve the George case within two days. Thanks to the media
publicity, there was pressure from above for quick results. That's why
this tragedy occurred''.

Administration officials also insist that the George killing and the
other incidents are all unrelated with no ``communal angle'' to it.
``Ever sincethe Kosikalan incident two months ago'', claimed an
official, ``even groups like the Bajrang Dal have been keeping a low
profile for fear that they will be blamed.'' Christian schools are
being targeted because they have money, he insisted.

Ordinary Christians, however, feel that even if the violence is not
the handiwork of one organisation working to a plan, the political
climate in UP is such that Christians have become easy targets.
``Anyone who wants to settle scores, or rob or loot knows that if he
targets church institutions, the BJP government will not come after
them'', said a businessman.

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