Police claim that villagers and Maoist activists killed Sister Valsha John, an Indian religious sister whose death has been linked to her work with native tribes in opposition to coal mining interests.
“We have arrested seven people in the murder of Valsha John,” said Arun Oraon, inspector general of police in Jharkhand's Santhal Pargana division, who told reporters that “villagers in connivance with the Maoists killed her.”
“Around 45 people raided the house of (Sr.) John,” Oraon announced Nov. 20, according to the Times of India. He claimed that “nearly 30 were Maoists,” while “the rest were villagers.”
As of Sunday, the police had arrested seven of the villagers they accused of invading Sr. John's house and participating in her Nov. 15 beating and murder. But they had not managed to apprehend any of the purported Maoists, even as The Hindu newspaper reported they had been traced to a specific squadron.
Jesuit Father Nirmal Raj, provincial superior of his order in the district of Dumka, said he was “confident in the work of the investigators” and would “wait and see” how the case proceeded.
“We know that the nun had played a decisive role in the agreement between the tribal people and the Panem mining company, in order for the parties to agree, even if some did not like the agreement,” Fr. Raj told Fides news agency after Sunday's announcement from the police.
Oraon told BBC News that the Communist revolutionaries resented Sr. John's influence, which he described as a “major block in their way.”
The investigator said the Maoists went on to provoke villagers who favored the work of the Panem corporation. Sr. John, a 53-year-old member of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, had protested Panem's plans, while negotiating an agreement that apparently displeased some locals.
“Over the past few years, there has been marked improvement in the lives of people engaged in direct business with Panem,” the Times of India quote Oraon as saying.
“On the other hand, those who worked with Valsha and got their share of development work allotted by the company to displaced people were not able to make much money. Since they saw Valsha as a hindrance, some villagers joined hands with Maoists and killed her.”
“They thought that once Valsha was out, they would get her share of the (mining) work,” the investigator stated.
According to Oraon, the mob violence also involved an attempt to to keep Sr. John from taking a rape victim to the police.
The investigator described the police account of events as “complex.”
The elaborate theory differs from some suspicions voiced shortly after Sr. John's death, when one of her brothers attested that she had been threatened by a mining “mafia.” BBC News reported on Nov. 17 that police had found Maoist literature near the crime scene, but suspected it was planted as a diversion.
But local sources had also told Fides, prior to Sunday's arrests, that some native supporters of the mining interests might have resented Sr. John's presence and sought to eliminate her.