Nuns thrashed at AIDS awareness meet in Alibaug

Alibaug: A women’s gathering, organised in this coastal town on Saturday to spread AIDS awareness among adivasis, turned into a nightmare for two nuns from an NGO. Sister Mercy Tuscano and Sister Philomena D’Mello were assaulted by a mob of around 50 followers of a spiritual leader. The reason: the nuns were allegedly converting the adivasis to Christianity.

Archana Sharma for TNN

The followers’ group, which included a number of women, allegedly kicked Sister Mercy on her private parts and forced her into a gutter. Sister Mercy, who was also dragged by her hair for 100 m, was admitted to the civil hospital. Sister Philomena, who too was injured, was discharged from the hospital.

The Alibaug police had not recorded the statements of the victims till Sunday afternoon and heard Sister Mercy only when she was narrating her plight to the media and to Abraham Mathai, vice-chairperson of the state minorities commission.

Sisters Philomena and Mercy, members of NGO Jeevan Jyoti Kendra—which works for the uplift of adivasis—had organised a “mahila melawa” on Saturday. The agenda of the meeting was to talk on AIDS and, on the collector’s instructions to the NGO, enrol adivasis in the Centre’s Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS). AIDS awareness coordinator Suchita Patwardhan from the civil hospital was also present.

“Soon, a mob gathered and wanted to know what we were up to. We requested them to take a seat and join in. Instead, they started accusing us of converting the adivasis into Christianity. The adivasis immediately intervened saying they were Hindus and no one had ever urged them to convert. But the mob attacked them too,” said Sister Philomena, who was slapped and punched by the women attackers.

A 16-year-old girl, Sonali Naik, was dragged by her hair and had her earrings snatched when she tried to save the nuns. Another adivasi, Taramati Balaram, told TOI that the nuns have been associated with them for six years. “They never talk about their God. They just teach us how to live, not to marry off our daughters early and take up education. They also visit our houses when we bring the Ganpati idol,” said Balaram.

It was after the intervention of social activist Vaishali Patil that the Alibaug police took cognisance of the matter. Senior inspector Suhas Garud admitted it as well. “Women were used to outrage the modesty of other women. There were attempts to rip off clothes and abuses were hurled. It was a shameful act,” said Patil, on whose insistence the police agreed to charge the attackers under the Atrocities Act.

The police arrested 13 men for rioting and causing minor injuries and promptly presented them in court, which granted them bail. “The speed with which the miscreants were taken to court talks a lot about their bias,” said Mathai, who met the victims, the police and the collector on Sunday. “It was a pre-planned attack by communal forces to scuttle positive programmes aimed at emancipating the tribals. I have asked the police to re-arrest the culprits under the Atrocities Act by Monday noon.”

Admitting that the statements of the nuns were not taken, Garud said a case of outraging a woman’s modesty would also be pressed.

Resident deputy collector Ramesh Surwade denied sending a circular to a specific NGO and said it was a pamphlet distributed to whoever was interested in EGS. But TOI has a copy of the February 25 circular, a copy of which is marked to Jeevan Jyoti Kendra, among 16 other NGOs.

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