A 40-year-old Catholic priest, who was booked by India’s Madhya Pradesh state police for sharing a social media post on Manipur, has committed suicide.
Fr Anil Francis (40), a member of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, was booked by the police a month ago, for sharing a WhatsApp post on the violence in Manipur.
On Wednesday, Sept 13, Fr Anil had gone to the Bishop’s House in Sagar to attend a prayer meeting. He went missing later in the day. A search found his body hanging from a tree, near a cemetery on September 14. In a purported suicide note, the priest asked for his body to be cremated.
Fr Anil was a manager at St Alphonsa Academy in Sagar district’s Garhakota. He had posted an image depicting a woman wrapped in the colours of the Indian flag being held by two men, with a mob behind them, with the text, “Wounded Manipur: 2 women paraded naked, gang-raped, not none arrested since two months. We are ashamed. When will peace prevail? Pray for Manipur.”
The reference in the post was to the ongoing violence in India’s northeastern state of Manipur, where ethnic clashes have taken on a religious dimension since the minority Christian presence in the region has been especially targeted. According to reports, more than 120 Christians have been killed amid the violence over the last three months, with 4,500 buildings and homes belonging to Christians and roughly 400 churches destroyed.
One of bis former students from Udaipura, where he worked as a principal for six years and some members of Sangh Parivar groups saw his WhatsApp post and filed a criminal defamation complaint against the priest.
Fr Jose Malekudy, the Judicial Vicar of Sagar Diocese, told TNM, “That post did not have anything against the national flag. Even the police were not ready to register the case, but they were pressured by certain groups. But no further actions were taken in the case”.
Fr Anil was ordained to the priesthood in April 2013. The priest was under tension and pressure recently over the FIR, his colleagues told the media.
Church officials also stressed that they can’t yet confirm the motives for Francis’s suicide.
“We do not know what made him take such an extreme step,” said Bishop James Athikalam of Sagar told Crux.
Bishop Athikalam said that Fr Anil’s family had been invited to the bishops’s house, “Where we expressed our pain and anguish and sorrow. We comforted them and consoled them and showed them a great appreciation of the work he had done.”
A statement from Sagar Diocese public relations officer Father Sabu Puthenpurackal said, “We realise that Fr Anil Francis was under tension and pressure over an FIR lodged against him over a post he had shared on Manipur violence on social media. We also realise that in a suicide note, he had expressed his wish to cremate his body. We are extremely pained and sad over the death of Fr Anil Francis, who was known for his commitment to the works given to him and dedicated to the values preached by him.”
Police said that there was no sign of foul play.