Kerala has become a battleground in the nationwide battle for religious freedom, as a local priest was allegedly murdered and another was charged with sedition.
The police in Kerala, a state where Christians make up less than 5% of the population, on Thursday arrested former leader of the Catholic Church, Ramesh Kumar Bajpai, on charges of murder and sedition for allegedly murdering two people in the state’s northern town of Bannur.
According to a police statement, a mob gathered outside Bannarh’s Catholic Church and beat the accused to death with sticks and other weapons.
The priest, an elderly man who had lost his sight, was also allegedly beaten to death.
The other victim, a resident of Banna, was arrested in the town of Nair and accused of having been beaten and killed by the mob, the police said.
Bajpai has denied the accusations.
“There is no truth in these allegations and no one is above the law.
The police investigation is on and the accused will be tried in court,” he said in a written statement to Reuters news agency.
In a statement on Twitter, the head of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Father Pradeep Bhanu, described the case as “totally unjustified”.
“The murder of two people by an alleged mob is a totally unjustified attack on all the citizens of Kerala,” he tweeted.
Brahmins have been a dominant political force in the south-eastern state, which has seen a spike in sectarian violence and protests over the killing of a prominent Christian man by Muslim separatists.
More than 80 people were killed and nearly 100 wounded in communal violence in 2014 and 2015, when Christian separatists fought a bloody separatist war with Muslims in the southern state of Kerala, which is predominantly Muslim.
The two incidents prompted the Catholic church to call for a nationwide prayer rally, which drew tens of thousands of supporters, although the violence has eased in recent years.
In 2015, the Kerala government banned the sale of beef, pork, mutton and mutton products in public places, and a Muslim-majority district in the north of the state also banned them.