The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has ordered an investigation into the role of two top functionaries of one of the apex bodies of Catholic Church in India, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), in the Khunti gangrape of five girls.

The probe comes after RSS-affiliated rights body Legal Rights Observatory (LRO) lodged a serious complaint to the NHRC.

LRO chief Vinay Joshi, a former pracharak of the Sangh, has accused CBCI secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of “shielding” Father Alphonso Aiend, one of the accused in the Khunti gang rape case. Aiend is the head of the Christian missionary school from where the five victims were abducted and later raped at gunpoint by members of banned naxal organisation People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI).

The other accused of covering up alleged Church complicity in the rapes is Cardinal Telesphore Toppo.

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Mascarenhas and Toppo held a press conference after the arrest of Aiend, terming him innocent, and lashed out at the Jharkhand police. They gave a premature clean chit to the accused Catholic priest even before the conclusion of judicial procedure,” Joshi told MyNation.

CBCI refused to comment, saying it was not in the know of the NHRC inquiry. It promised to get back to MyNation, but hasn’t so far.

In his complaint, Joshi also accused the two of  a “brazen attempt to put pressure on investigating officers, indirectly intimidating the victims and interfering in the investigation” by way of  the press conference and their public stand.

In response to the complaint, NHRC said on its website: “Direction issued by the Commission: Transmit the petitions to the concerned authorities calling for a report within four weeks. Action Taken: Action Taken Report Called for. Status on 7/7/2018: Response from concerned authority is awaited.”

In the Khunti gangrape, five women of an NGO’s drama crew had been allegedly raped at gunpoint after being abducted from a Christian missionary school in Kochang where they had gone to create awareness on migration and human trafficking on June 19.

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Secretary-General of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Theodore Mascarenhas 

Earlier, the National Commission for Women (NCW) had taken note of the dubious role played by the head of RC Mission School, Father Aiend. The police had arrested Aiend after confirming that he had committed an “act of omission” by neither informing the cops nor helping the girls when they were being taken away by members of banned Naxal organisation People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI). He was arrested for aiding and abetting the crime. Aiend had gone to buy vegetables from the same Kochang market, where he had earlier invited the girls to perform in his school.

The police have also confirmed that the Pathalgarhi (a growing sinister movement using tribals to plant stones and claim ‘sovereign’ political territory) leadership too had been complicit in the case as they had allegedly reached out to the Naxal leadership for teaching the crew a lesson, accusing the latter to be police informants.

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Khunti gang rape suspect 

According to the complaint made to NHRC, “CBCI, which is apex body of Catholics in India, secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas and Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo have called a press conference and lashed out at Jharkhand police by terming gang rape accused Father Alphonse Alien as innocent. They awarded clean chit to accused Catholic priest before conclusion of judicial procedure. This is brazen attempt to put pressure on investigating officers and shameless attempt to shield accused.”

Joshi requested the NHRC to take urgent note of the CBCI press conference and summon Mascarenhas and Toppo for “indirectly intimidating five rape victims”.