India should be ashamed of how nun’s rape case was handled

Delays and smear campaign against victim added insult to injury

  • John Dayal, New Delhi;

Those following the case of the gang rape of a Catholic nun in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008 would by now have received the news that only three of her 10 tormentors have been sentenced to prison terms; news that should be greeted with sadness for justice partially done and inordinately delayed.

In the process, the traumatized sister suffered embarrassment and humiliation in public and has had to challenge malfeasance by the state police and even by a judicial officer.

A court in Cuttack last week finally sentenced the main accused, Mitu alias Santosh Patnaik, to 11 years in prison for the rape of the nun.  Two others, Gajendra Digal and Saroj Bahdei, were convicted of the lesser crime of outraging the modesty of the nun and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Six others were acquitted due to lack of evidence. One person is still evading arrest, five and a half years after the crime was committed during the genocidal anti-Christian violence in the Kandhamal district in 2008 following the assassination of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) vice-president Laksmananada Saraswati by a Maoist terror squad.

That there has been a conviction at all speaks of the bravery and tenacity of the nun, and of a small band of supporters who have carried on an unceasing campaign for justice. From the beginning, the state itself seemed disinterested in pursuing the rapists and bringing them to justice.

Two months after the crime, the victim came before the international media in New Delhi to narrate her pain at police inaction. She spoke of how she was gang raped in the office of the NGO she worked for in Kandhamal. In fact, a group of rioting men who had caught her, wanted to burn her alive. Then, one by one, they raped her. Not satisfied with that, the group paraded her naked, together with a priest who had also been captured by them.

The police, when they reached her, were of no help. Twice they allowed other groups of marauders to re-capture her. Later they advised her not to press charges, saying there could be “consequences” for her. They ordered her not to write about her travail in detail in her official complaint. Eventually, instead of escorting her to a safe haven, they left her to take a public bus to the state capital, where finally she found refuge in her religious community.

It was after outraged Christian activists made a noise in the national capital, New Delhi, that arrests were made. That six persons have been acquitted for want of evidence itself speaks of the shoddy investigations that were carried out.  Much later, when finally she was asked to confront and identify the accused persons, the magistrate on duty sought to falsify her statement that she had identified the men.

The case was moved to the jurisdiction of Cuttack district, but the court would not accept her allegations. The nun then came to the Supreme Court, which was aghast at the treatment meted to her by the subordinate judiciary. The Supreme Court judges set a deadline for the case to be tried by the Odisha court and judgment given.

This was not the only case of rape in the Kandhamal violence; two others have been reported. There were many other cases of gender-based violence that never came to trial because the police were bent on minimizing the extent of violence against women, as indeed they had failed to register many other cases of arson, and some of murder.

What has been particularly galling has been the failure of civil society in Odisha to stand by the nun. In fact, both government officials and local citizen and political groups first sought to deny there had been a gang rape at all. The nun was then subjected to a vilification campaign in which the local media joined in, rather enthusiastically, with a slew of insinuations.

State and national women’s commissions, meant to safeguard the interest of the common people and charged with overseeing that justice was done in cases of gender violence, kept almost entirely silent. So did the National Human Rights Commission and the government bodies who otherwise are known to speak out when other such crimes are committed.

The investigations and trial have taken more than five years, and one person is still to be traced and arrested. It is inexplicable that this lackadaisical process has taken place when there is a national mood of zero tolerance of rape and gender crimes following the gang rape and murder of a medical student in New Delhi in December 2012.

That horrendous crime led to the setting up of a commission headed by the retired Chief Justice of India J S Verma, whose momentous report has set the norms and guidelines to curb violence against women. In fact, the government accepted the report immediately and soon legislated a harsher law against rape, mandating the death penalty for those found guilty. Several people have been sentenced to death since 2012.

If only the norms stipulated by Justice Verma had been followed in the case of the nun. But traumatized though she may have been by her experience in Kandhamal and then in the court rooms, she has not accepted defeat. She has refused to be broken, is understood to be pursuing higher studies and hopes to become a lawyer one day.  I know her personally and am moved beyond words by her courage and the strength of her spirit, and of her faith.

John Dayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council.

Source: UCAnews

Related reports

Odisha court sentences three men for rape of Catholic nun

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3 Comments

  1. March 24, 2014 at 7:43 am

    I may be quoted for having made the following statement many times.
    THE FINANCES AND ASSETS OF NOT A SINGLE COP IN OUR COUNTRY WILL STAND ANT SCRUTINY OR INVESTIGATION; THIS IS SO, BECAUSE THE ROT STARTS AT THE TOP, AND ALL GET THEIR PROPORTIONATE SHARE/CUT.
    Check out the lifestyles of any cop’s family– and it is clear to see.

    I also have some advice for anyone who is contemplating committing a grievous crime — have your bribe money, in plenty, ready and available; since when you are arrested, and the reports are made and filed, that is the time when the reports are twisted in your favour; then the prosecution cannot do anything to prove you guilty. If the money is not forthcoming immediately, at the time of your arrest, the ante gets higher, and the twisting of reports and facts becomes more expensive.
    Go to any police station in our country to lodge a complaint or ask for help, the first reaction is that you are a customer; certainly not someone who needs any help or justice.

    The mechanism to investigate corrupt cops is so skewed.

    Can anyone show what percentage of cops accused of corruption have actually been given a sentence ????

    And then comes the stupid fact that Christians are a meek mild lot with the teaching ” OFFER THE OTHER CHEEK ” and ” BLESSED ARE THE MEEK ”
    Perhaps if we Christians get out of the mildness rut that we are in, and become a bit more militant and vocal like some others of minority religions, we will have some sort of voice to air the travesties of justice that are rampant.
    Please remember only the cases that get media attention, and are of political importance get properly attended to.
    Our judges are also no saints;check out their lifestyles ????

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  2. March 24, 2014 at 10:53 am

    The boldness and resolve shown by our nun is exemplary and displays a spirit of meekness which we should emulate, if we are to express our solidarity with the Sister. Of course no words can do justice to what she has gone through, but if we stand up and assert and convey solidly that we cannot be taken for granted then our actions will have soothing and comforting effect on her. Her pain has not gone in vain!
    The response from the various organizations meant to protect the interests of women only goes to show how politically important we are. There are lessons to be learnt by us as a Community.
    This ‘care-less’ attitude is not only prevalent outside the Church but there is a need to introspect the worth the nuns are given inside too. There will be lots of stories coming forth. Experiences that have wrecked some of the souls who have dedicated their lives in the mission of Christ,beyond spiritual, physical and emotional repair.

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  3. March 24, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    In the Secular world outside the Church at least ‘some’ redressal of grievances , ‘some’ justice can be expected for women.

    But inside the Church , ‘No’ redressal of grievances , ‘No’ justice can be expected for any women.

    If a woman whose life is dedicated to God is violated , used as cheap labour etc……there is ‘No’ possibility of justice. The crimes will be ignored, covered up , the criminals promoted publicly and the victims further isolated , tortured for daring to speak up.

    I personally know several such women.
    The same Church authorities who raise their voice against the inaction by the government or against public authorities from majority communities —– are guilty of committing same crimes /covering up crimes against women inside the Church !

    Yes , indeed if we open our eyes we will see the can of worms opening up. The hierarchical authorities guiding Women’s desk etc. are the same persons who deliberately turn a blind eye when confronted with ‘real’ grievances by women.

    I wonder whether the instructions come from the Top-down [?!]
    It will NOT go on forever !

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