Father Rajat Ekka (Photo: prabhatkhabar.com)

By UCA News reporter

Oct 31 2023

An indigenous Catholic priest has been found dead under mysterious circumstances inside his parish campus in Gumla diocese in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.

Police recovered the body of Father Rajat Ekka on Oct 27 from a well in Chainpur parish. The 61-year-old served as its parish priest and secretary of rural diocesan schools in the parish and surrounding areas.

Police said it could be suicide as they found no signs of foul play in the preliminary investigations. However, a detailed probe will be conducted into the circumstances that could have led to the priest’s death.

“We will be able to say more only after getting the postmortem examination report and a thorough investigation,” said a police official who did not want to be named.

Father Cyprian Kullu, public relations officer and former vicar general of Gumla diocese, said: “We are shocked to learn about Father Ekka’s death.”

The indigenous priest did not have any enmity with anyone nor did he face any threat, and “it seems to be a likely case of suicide,” Kullu told UCA News on Oct 28.

He said the priest was under some stress after cash was stolen from the parish office less than a month ago.

“The looters had taken away close to one lakh Indian rupees [US$1,201] and some people blamed the priest for being careless,” he said.

But Ekka, though appearing a bit depressed, continued to work normally. “Nobody could have imagined he was under serious stress,” Kullu added.

The dead priest was last seen in the parish house on the evening of Oct 26.

When he did not turn up for breakfast the next day, the cook went to his room but did not find him there.

The cook informed diocesan officials who started looking for him. “They found his body inside the Church well,” Kullu said.

The funeral was held on Oct 28 after a mandatory postmortem examination was conducted and the body was handed over by authorities, he added.

The incident is the sixth reported case of suspected suicide by a Catholic priest in India in recent years.

On Sep 14, the body of a 40-year-old priest was found hanging from a tree in Sagar diocese in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

Father Anil Francis took his own life due to possible depression, according to diocesan officials.

Local police had registered a case against him for sharing video footage of violence against indigenous Christians in strife-torn Manipur state in northeast India.

Earlier on Jul 1 2020, Father Xavier Alwin was found hanging from a ceiling fan at his residence in Tuticorin diocese in southern Tamil Nadu state

The 36-year-old priest was a teacher in a diocesan-run school in Thoothukudi city.

On Jun 20 2020, Father Yeruva Bala Shoury Reddy was found hanging from a ceiling fan in Kolakalur parish in Guntur diocese of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India.

A suicide note left by the 50-year-old priest said he was depressed.

On Jun 22 2020, the body of another priest, 51-year-old Father George Ettupara, was fished out of a well near his parish in Punnathura village in Kerala state. He is also suspected of committing suicide due to depression.

On Oct 11 2019, Father Mahesh D’Souza, 36, of Udupi diocese in southern Karnataka state, was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his room. He also served as principal of a diocese-run school.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population and majority 80 percent are Hindus. – UCA News