PEOPLES TRIBUNAL ENQUIRY
Conducted at the instance of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, South Kanara And The Catholic Association of South Kanara And Tranaparency International, Karnataka Chapter
By Justice Michael F. Saldanha Retired Judge, Karnataka High Court.
President, The Catholic Association of South Kanara.
Chairman, Transparency International , Karnataka Chapter)
On the morning of Sunday the 14th September 2008, six persons, five ladies, all around the ages of 50-60 years and a man in his early fifties were silently praying in the modest little Perpetual Adoration Chapel of the Monastery of the Poor Clares located at Falnir Road, right in the centre of Mangalore city. There is a tiny sign at the entrance of a narrow lane leading to the Monastery which is insignificantly tucked away in a small structure about fifty metres from the main road. A small open space adjoins the front of the Monastery.A little door which is always open, leads to the Chapel which has a few benches for the use of the odd devotee who decides to spend time in silent prayer. If ever there was a place that could be called the House of God, this was it. The Nuns never enter this side of the Chapel, they pray from a secluded area at the back of this Chapel or from their private Chapel where they were when the incident occurred.
After Mass daily, The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a Monstance which is placed in a slightly elevated niche behind the altar. To the left of the Altar is a large Crucifix which is a heritage work of rare art vividly depicting Christ nailed to the Cross. The CRUCIFIX is universally accepted as the centrepoint of Christian devotion and is of special significance. The Blessed Sacrament which represents the Body and Blood of Christ is THE most HOLY and SACRED object for all Catholics and any form of disrespect or desecration is simply intolerable. The sacred hosts are normally kept in the Tabernacle which is kept locked and in this case was covered by a small veil. What is of relevance is that the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the Churches only for short periods only at designated prayer times. This Chapel is special- it is a PERPETUAL ADORATION MONASTERY where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for prayer during the whole day. This is a fact to the special knowledge of only those who come there for prayer. The Chapel is OPEN TO ALL in the sense that there is no restriction on whoever wants to pray there. People drift by in small numbers at different times. My investigations indicate that a few young men on motorcycles were casually visiting the Chapel at different hours for about three weeks prior to the incident obviously to keep a watch on the place and ascertain a time when there would be the THINNEST ATTENDANCE which happens to be on a Sunday morning after 10 a.m. Also on that day the Flour Mill and the Printing Press in the lane are closed.
The Monastery houses Ten Nuns and two trainees, all women. This Order of Nuns is totally dedicated to prayer round the clock, they have renounced the world completely and never come out of the Monastery. Their only contact with visitors, who are extremely rare is by speaking through a thick metal grill- they live a very stark and absteem life of solitude and simplicity, even growing their own vegetables in the small area behind the building. They hold no religious services for the public- a visiting priest says Mass daily and conducts private religious services for the inmates of the Monastery. These Nuns have absolutely no dealings with anybody, they pray for the well-being of all humanity and IT IS UNTHINKABLE THAT A MURDEROUS ASSAULT WAS ATTEMPTED ON THEM. No offerings are made at this Chapel, there is no money or anything of saleable value there. Copies of the Holy Books are placed around the Chapel. THERE IS NO QUESTION OF CONVERSIONS, OFFENSIVE LITERATURE OR FOREIGN MONEY- THIS IS A MONASTERY OF SAINTLY WOMEN IN THE TRUE SENSE OF THE WORD.
Around 10.15 a. m. on Sunday the 14th of September a white Maruti Omni and Four motorcycles arrived at the entrance of the lane. Being Sunday, the shops on the main road were closed. In all, twelve persons alighted from these vehicles. Two persons remained near the vehicles. The remaining Ten persons entered the lane and went towards the Chapel. All the twelve persons were dressed in saffron clothes and the five vehicles displayed Bajrang Dal flags. Four of the youth were carrying Swords and two were armed with Iron bars. The other four were armed with wooden clubs. They stormed the outer area of the Chapel and started smashing everything in sight shouting slogans. Two of the sword-carriers stood guard outside while the remaining entered the Chapel area.
The six devotees were terrified- they were given a mild beating and warned to keep still which they did. The attackers went straight for the Crucifix and hit at it. They SPAT on the image and kicked the pieces that had fallen down thereafter smashing everything in sight. They enquired where the Nuns were- they were told that they were inside behind locked doors. Some conversations took place over the Mobile phones in Tulu and Konkani with their bosses and they were apparently instructed to break open the doors of the monastery and attack the nuns which they tried to do unsuccessfully. This was also reported to their control room over the Mobile phone and they were then instructed to go for the Blessed Sacrament. Since it was placed in an elevated place they tried to smash it amidst loud and filthy abuses. Since the blows came from the front and there was no protection from the back, the Monstance fell through the niche into the secluded area used by the nuns. Unable to get at it the attackers were infuriated and ran wild breaking everything in sight- the six persons in the Chapel received several blows but none of them were fatal because the swords were not used on them. One of them has sustained two fractures, the remaining five have suffered injuries of considerable seriousness requiring expensive medical treatment. All the sacred books were collected in a pile on the FLOOR and amidst vile abuses a decision was taken to BURN THEM. The six persons were made to move out of the Chapel- they were very graciously told in Kannada that their lives were being spared as the targets were the Nuns who might have escaped but that they will get them on the next occasion.
The Mobile phones were ringing madly and a message seems to have come to leave the place immediately as they had already spent considerable time there. The fire operation was fortunately abandoned as we would have been otherwise told by the authorities that it was an accident or better, A SHORT CIRCUIT AS IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE HAPPENED IN the case of the fire at the ANEKAL CHURCH. The vehicles were telephonically summoned, the Maruti van and one of the motorcycles came inside to the entrance. Apparently, the regular taxi-drivers opposite Moti Mahal were curious because the number-plates were removed from all the vehicles and all the twelve persons had their faces covered with shawls as is characteristic with dacoits. It was the curious enquiries from these persons that saved the Chapel from going up in flames. The twelve persons then drove through Hampankatta with the motor-cycl;e riders waving their swords in triumph and the Police on duty smiling as though it was a huge joke. I would have expected the Police to clap and cheer! It took me a lot of labour and time to track down the six persons who are the eyewitnesses- they had been warned not to open their mouths and spoke to me in confidence on assurance of anonymity. The two taxi-drivers are similarly traumatized and I have assured them of confidentiality. I have carefully cross-questioned each of the eight of them who were interviewed separately on different days- they do not know each other but their versions tally to the letter. I have no hesitation in holding that they are speaking the truth.
Few things shock me at my age- I have seen many many very good Police officers and excellent work by the Police but I have regretfully also seen the other side of the picture. There is a charge that all these attacks have political sanction and cover. In that context I must record that the taxi-drivers were uneqivocal that a Police Jeep passed by within SECONDS of the miscreants vehicles setting off- were the Police looking the other way or in the present political set-up were they escorting the criminals? Desperate telephone calls were made to the police and they made a pretence of rushing to the Monastery and pretending to show concern. One month has passed. This was a Dacoity on a place of worship, it is a clear case of attempt to murder armed with deadly weapons, the most sacred objects of Christianity were desecrated, but for being indoors the Nuns would have most certainly been butchered; the head of the Bajrang Dal has owned responsibility for the attack despite which the offenders have not even been arrested.
What are the irresistible conclusions:
1. The attack on the Adoration Monastery with the use of lethal weapons was a premeditated, deliberate, carefully planned assault professionally executed and further that the entire operation was monitored and supervised. It was not an accident as claimed in the Press by the Bajrang Dal chief but was an integral PART OF THE MASTER-PLAN TO ATTACK Christian Religious centres that took place on that day the underlying objective being to SPREAD TERROR.
2. Once the organization has publicly owned up the responsibility, any novice could have tracked down the twelve assailants and those who were monitoring them on the mobile phones- the fact that this has not happened conclusively establishes political patronage to the crimes. It is not merely a case of Police inaction/collusion but much deeper.
3 The most serious aspect of the case is that this was a HATE CRIME directed against the very most sacred symbols of Christianity a virtual stab at the HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. THIS IS SHAMEFUL The Chief Minister and the Home Minister rushed here and promised stringent action. NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. WHAT ABOUT THE CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES AND THE DUTIES OF THE STATE TO THE MINORITIES? HAS THE LAW AND ORDER MACHINERY BROKEN DOWN? THIS CASE ANSWERS THE QUESTION IN THE AFFIRMATIVE.
(This investigation has taken three weeks of minute and painstaking research- we have interviewed hundreds of citizens in our quest for the truth. It had been difficult and tiring and I am deeply indebted to the team that has assisted me through the October heat. We have been working simultaneously on the remaining cases and the findings will be presented, each under individual heads.)
(JUSTICE M. F. SALDANHA) Retd.
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell
Evangelical Fellowship of India
New Delhi, India
Evangelical Fellowship of India (established 1951) is a charter member of World Evangelical Alliance, an accredited NGO with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations