Bhubaneswar: A Church spokesperson in Odisha says the verdict in the nun’s rape case has given hope to thousands of women who have suffered similar atrocities around India.
On Friday, a trail court in Cuttack convicted three men and acquitted six accused of gang raping a Catholic nun in 2008. The main accused was given 11-year jail for raping the nun while the other two got 26 months in jail for outraging the modesty of a woman.
The nun was allegedly gang-raped on August 25, 2008, at Nuagaon area in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, a day after communal riots broke out in the area triggered by the killing of Hindu religious leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and his four associates.
“We welcome the judgment, even though it has come almost six years after the incident. It will send a good message that justice is possible even in most difficult cases,” said Fr Santosh Digal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Odisha, eastern India.
The case has seen several twists and turns as the nun’s attackers, supported by some radical groups, tried to block its trial through various means. In 2010, the case was shifted to a trial court in Cuttack on directions of the Odisha high court after the nun had expressed apprehensions over fair trial and threat to her life if it was held in Kandhamal.
Fr Digal said the verdict was the result of persistent efforts by scores of people cutting across religions. “Lawyers, especially women lawyers from Delhi, had come to support the Sister. The case could be brought to its logical conclusion only because of such support to a hapless woman,” the priest added.
The nun’s rape was among 3,200 complaints filed by the survivors of the seven-week rampage by Hindu extremists, centered around Kandhamal district. The police registered only 828 cases.
As many as 100 Christians were killed and many women were raped, including the nun, during the violence. Hundreds of houses were burnt down, as were 95 churches and several orphanages.
As the case dragged on, the nun last year had expressed her frustration. “How long should I wait, and for what?” the nun asked. “I cannot have my normal life. I’ve been asked to take a false identity and I cannot introduce myself to anyone with my real name. I just want it to end, somehow,” she had said..
Ten people were accused in the nun’s rape case and nine were arrested while one is still absconding. Eight of the nine people arrested were out on bail and one person is still lodged in jail.
Father Digal said several people from other religions had come forward with financial assistance for the nun so that she could fight the case.
The nun had addressed a press conference in New Delhi on October 24, 2008, requesting a federal probe into the incident. She read out before reporters and TV cameras a statement signed as Sister Meena.
The nun was working at Divyajyoti (divine light) Pastoral Centre and Janavikas (people´s development) Social Service Centre in Odisha’s Nuagaon area. Hindu zealots burned down these buildings on Aug. 24, but the nun managed to escape into the forest. She and Father Thomas Chellan, the center´s director, took shelter with a Hindu neighbor the following day. The attackers, however, found them out.
Reading from the handwritten statement, the nun said a mob entered the room where she was staying and one of them slapped her on her face, caught her hair and pulled her out of the house.
“Two of them were holding my neck to cut off my head with axe. Others told them to take me out to the road. I saw Father Chellan also being taken out and beaten. The mob consisting of 40-50 men were armed with lathi (wooden sticks), axes, spades, crowbars, iron rods, sickles etc. They took both of us to the main road. They led us to the burnt down Janavikas building saying that they were going to throw us into the smoldering fire.”
The mob brought them to the Janavikas building and threw the nun on the verandah on the way to the dining room, filled with ashes and broken glass pieces. “One of them tore my blouse and others my undergarments. Father Chellan protested and they beat him and pulled him out from there. They pulled out my sari and one of them stepped on my right hand and another on my left hand and then a third person raped me on the verandah mentioned above. When it was over, I managed to get up and put [on] my petticoat and sari,” she narrated her ordeal.
She also alleged the police looked on and did not help them. The police even discouraged her from filing a first information report (FIR), a formal complaint to register a case.