Friday, October 13, 2006

Stop Police Harassment: Retreat Center

October 11, 2006

Retreat Center Asks Kerala State To Stop Police Harassment

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (UCAN) -- Representatives of the Divine Retreat Center have asked the Kerala state government to take steps to end what they describe as police harassment of the center staff and its residents.

"The police are harassing the inmates in the name of investigation," Peter Pattarmadom of the center declared at a press conference Oct. 10 in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram.

For the past year, controversies have dogged the facility in Muringoor, a village about 2,560 kilometers south of New Delhi. Vincentian priests manage the popular center, where weekly retreats it runs throughout the year each attract more than 10,000 people from various religions.

Pattarmadom said that early this month a large team of police officials created a fearful atmosphere in the center, which also houses hundreds of mentally ill and destitute people. A 70-member team including police and state health officials visited, questioned people and examined documents on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, spending seven hours at the center each day.

The investigation team "created a panic and scare among the inmates," Pattarmadom later told UCA News. He said the police acted illegally, searching even the living quarters and bathrooms of women and questioning mentally unsound people.

Media, he charged, "unfortunately" have projected the center as a place of "crime or persecution." The misinformation campaign is "part of a conspiracy aimed at destroying the credibility of the center," he added.

Twelve people representing the center addressed the press conference.

Lawyer Philip Joseph said police who raided the center violated norms and directives of India's Supreme Court. "We don't keep our doors closed to anyone. Thousands of people are living at the center irrespective of caste or religion," he told the media gathering.

The spokespeople explained that the center offers shelter for more than 10,000 people in different houses meant for people who are mentally ill, orphaned, sick, destitute and drug-addicted. They insisted it does not run a hospital but houses these people because they have no place to go.

The investigation started following a March 10 directive of the Kerala High Court. The court was acting on an anonymous letter and two compact discs it reportedly received that implicated the center in a series of crimes and irregularities including murder, rape, foreign exchange violations and running a hospital without a proper license.

Last year a woman claiming to be a former employee of the retreat center told a magistrate that a priest official of the center raped and impregnated her. The woman, Mini Varghese, was in police custody in a theft case when she made the complaint.

The priest willingly underwent a DNA test and it proved the allegation of the woman "baseless," Pattarmadom told the press conference. He cited such inquiries as part of a plan to harass the center.

However, Inspector General of Police Vincent M. Paul, who is in charge of the probe ordered by the High Court, denied the allegations of police harassment. He said it was conducted following the court directions. "We will be submitting our report soon," Paul told UCA News on Oct. 10.

Except for one uniformed police officer, all others who entered the center for investigation were in civilian dress, he said. "The inspection team was accompanied by a medical team. We never harassed anybody there. We checked the facilities and talked to people and examined the medical care offered at the center," Paul explained.

Meanwhile, opposition leader and former state chief minister Oomman Chandy, an Orthodox Christian, released to the media an Oct. 10 letter in which he demanded an explanation from the government. The letter said police made the investigation "a big show." He requested the home minister of the ruling communist alliance to visit the center to understand the "ground realities."

"I've visited the center and have great appreciation for its services," Chandy told UCA News Oct. 10.

That same day about 200 people held a prayer meeting for the center's cause in front of the state legislature. Auxiliary Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathiose of Trivandrum Syro-Malankara archdiocese addressed the group.

The Syro-Malankara Church, like the larger Syro-Malabar Church, is an Oriental Catholic rite based in Kerala. They and the Latin-rite, largest of the three, make up the Indian Catholic Church.
Reproduced by Konkani Catholics with permission from UCAN (

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