By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Seven people have been detained in eastern India over the murder of a Catholic nun who was known for defending hundreds of people displaced by mining operations, police announced Friday, November 18.
Sister Valsa John, 53, was hacked to death Tuesday, November 15, in a home of Pachwara village in India’s Jharkhand state, according to police investigators. She had been threatened by “coal mine bosses for defending the rights of local tribespeople,” her family said Thursday, November 17.
The village where the attack took place is located in Jharkhand’s troubled Pakur district, 240 miles (385 kilometers) southeast of Patna, the capital of neighboring Bihar state.
“We have detained seven persons on the suspicion of their complicity,” Pakur’s police chief Amarnath Khanna told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
Police told local media they also detained four people for allegedly raping a tribal girl, who was a close associate of the nun. John reportedly attempted to discuss the issue again with a Pakur deputy police commissioner Tuesday, November 15, the day that she was killed.
It was not immediately clear whether the rape of the girl, who was not identified, was an attempt by locals to pressure the nun to halt her activities. The regional inspector-general Arun Oraon told media that an “officer-in-charge of the police station” had been suspended “for not registering the [rape] case.”
Coal extraction in mineral-rich Jharkhand is largely controlled by a powerful mafia that operates illegal mines, according to reporters with close knowledge about the situation.
The coal is then sold on the black market. The mafia has in the past attacked, and even killed, officials and rights activists who have objected to their exploitation of tribespeople.
John, who was burried Thursday, November 17, joined the order of the Catholic Sisters of Charity 24 years ago. She did not want to stay in a monastery as she preferred to work among impoverished victims of the mining industry, Christians said.
Bishop Julius Marandi of the state’s Dumka district told The Hindu news paper that John was “a person with total dedication to the cause she espoused and love for the people with whom she worked.”
He said John worked with the Santal people, one of the biggest of the communities in the area, many of whom were displaced by the heavy coal mining in the region. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).