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Poonjar priest accident: Right-wing Christian group, BJP giving communal colour

Poonjar priest accident: Right-wing Christian group, BJP giving communal colour

An attempt to communalize the incident, wherein the assistant vicar of the Poonjar church, Fr Joseph Attuchalil, was allegedly hit by a car driven by students, at St. Mary’s Forane Church in Poonjar, has been reported.

The incident occurred on Saturday, February 24, when Fr Joseph Attuchalil was allegedly hit by a car after he asked a group of school students to leave the church premises. However, some right-wing groups belonging to the Christian and Hindu communities have spread the incident as a communal attack on the Christian community.

Despite the police arresting 27 students, including 10 minors, mostly class 12 students from the Erattupetta Government Higher Secondary School, in connection with the incident, and the police rejecting any religious angle to the incident, certain sections of the Christian and Hindu communities are found to be spreading hate on social media with nefarious intentions.

The students had reportedly gathered on the church premises with eight cars following a farewell party. The noise and disruption caused by their arrival led Fr Joseph to intervene and request them to exit the compound. However, the situation escalated, and one of the cars allegedly struck the priest as he tried to close the gates.

BJP has alleged that the accused include Muslims, and they claim that the police are withholding the names of the students. BJP leader Vishnu Vardhan Reddy stated, "Because the attackers are from the minority community, the police haven't even released the names of the attackers." This narrative, driven by certain Christian right-wing channels and social media pages, has contributed to the communal polarization surrounding the incident.

The police findings, however, contradict the communal narrative. According to the authorities, the incident was not planned, and there were no communal issues involved. The complaint filed did not cite any communal reasons for the confrontation.

This incident has unfolded in Poonjar, a region that has witnessed communal tensions in the past. The constituency has a diverse demographic, with 19.1% Muslim voters, 37.6% Christians, and 43% Hindus. In the 2021 elections, former MLA PC George, who recently joined the BJP, made controversial claims about 'love jihad' in the constituency, further contributing to communal tensions.

While some political figures, like PC George, are utilizing the incident for their own political gains, the church authorities are calling for restraint. Fr Joseph Thadathil, the vicar general of the Pala Eparchy overseeing the Poonjar church, emphasized that the church is not blaming any particular community for the incident.

He acknowledged past incidents of vehicles entering the church compound but stated that this time, the students attempted to harm a significant figure in the church.

Church members, led by priests and authorities, staged a protest march demanding strict action against the accused. The police have booked the students under section 307 (attempted murder) of the Indian Penal Code, and they have been presented in court. The older students among them have been shifted to a borstal school, while the minors have been placed in a juvenile home.

In addition to the arrests, the Kottayam Cyber police have registered a case against two individuals for spreading religious hatred through social media related to this incident. Meanwhile, five church members involved in the protests have been booked for allegedly manhandling a police officer during the demonstrations.

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