For six days, since 23 December, five families have been forced to stay within the premises of a church in Pathamuttam near Kottayam in Kerala, ever since they were attacked whilst carolling before Christmas. On the night of 23 December, a group of carollers, including women and children, was allegedly attacked by DYFI workers. Chingavanam police arrested seven individuals in connection with the case including six DYFI workers. All those arrested were later granted bail.
However, the family members allege that DYFI workers continue to threaten them, and that they were forced to stay in the Pathamutam St Paulâ€™s Anglican Church out of fear of attack if they left.
Johnson PC, committee secretary of the Pathamutam St Paulâ€™s Anglican Church told TNM, "On December 23, a 45 member carol team was visiting homes in the area. But when they reached one of the homes, a group of DYFI workers allegedly joined the team and started calling them ugly words without provocation. The DYFI workers began harassing the girls in the group, and it was alleged that girls of the carol group was molested. When we questioned their actions, they attacked us and destroyed our instruments. Then we informed the police, and they reached the spot and directed us to stop carolling, and so we returned to the church.â€ť
He continues, "Food was arranged for the carolling group members inside the church. When we reached the church and started to distribute the food to the kids, a fifty-member group of DYFI workers attacked my home. At that time, only my wife Lincy and our kid were at home. But they brutally attacked her. Then they allegedly entered the church, attacked the members and destroyed church property, and our food. As part of the attack, many members of the church were injured. One of our church members, Yamiya C Thankachen, was severally injured in the attack. Later, the police reached the spot and admitted the injured members to the hospital.â€ť
Yamiya C Thankachen, a Btech student, said "The carolling was aimed at collecting money for the construction of a new church. But the DYFI workers allegedly molested and attacked our group without any provocation. We are afraid to return to our homes when the threat continues against us.â€ť she says.
"The police did not properly record the girlsâ€™ statements, and this allowed the accused to get bail. We will continue to remain inside the church, and want the police to arrest all the accused. We have submitted a complaint to Kottayam SP in this regard,â€ť said Johnson.
However, DYFI Kottayam district secretary Sajeesh Sasi refuted the allegations against DYFI involved the issue. He said, â€ťI received information that the issue started when a complaint was filed that a priest leered at a woman bathing, and this eventually led to the conflict. The issue created a controversy in the area and that was the actual reason of the incident."
"Some DYFI workers have been arrested in the case but the arrested members are merely followers of DYFI. The incident was a communal issue and there is no official link or relation with our party. The police and the natives know the truth, but some vested interest groups added the name of DYFI in this case.â€ť Sajeesh told TNM. "If needed, the party leadership is ready to begin talks to solve the issue,â€ť he adds.
The Cherama Sambava Development Society (CSDS) and Anglican Church committee members conducted a collectorate march on Friday at Kottayam Gandhi square, seeking the immediate arrest of the DYFI workers. Former Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan inaugurated the march.
Chingavanam Sub Inspector Anoop C Nair told TNM, "Presently there is no issue in the area. The families should go to their homes and we don't know why they continue to stay the church. We already imposed police patrol in the area to assure law and order. We arrested seven members in connection with the case and the court granted bail to all of them. The main condition of the bail was that the accused do not enter the Pathamuttam panchayat area,â€ť said the SI.
On Saturday evening, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy visited the families and expressed his support. â€śThe government must conduct an impartial enquiry into the issue and arrest all the accused. The family members are afriad to leave their homes,â€ť said Chandy. The UDF district committee will also conduct a long march to Kottayam SP's office on January 4. Meanwhile, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala submitted a letter to Kerala DGP Loknath Beher, seeking immediate action against the DYFI workers involved.