India: Christians Dangerously Vulnerable
January 12, 2017
Persecution of Christians in India intensifies. Police rapes, acquittals and false accusations are the story mainstream isn’t leading with. From No. 28 to 15 on World Watch list in three years.
The gang rape of a nun took place at a convent-run medical center in Raipur, the Chhattisgarh capital, on the night of 20 June 2015. The 47-year-old nun was tied to a bed, force-fed drugs and sexually assaulted. She was found the next morning after failing to show up for morning prayers.
World Watch Monitor reports that the two suspects – 19-year old Dinesh Dhurv and 25-year-old Jitendra Pathak – were acquitted last week, on January 3rd; the judge cited a “lack of evidence”.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, bemoaned the “half-hearted attitude of the police” and called the acquittals “a grave injustice not only for our consecrated [nuns], but also for all women who have suffered a similar trauma”.
“This acquittal once again brings to our attention the problem of violence against women. It is a huge setback for all of us working for the rights and dignity of women, in particular victims of violence,” he added.
Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF), told World Watch Monitor
“If you are a woman tribal or from a minority, you are a second class citizen. Getting justice is very difficult,”
Two months after the incident – when no suspects had yet been arrested – the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) criticised Chhattisgarh’s police, following protests by Christian groups. The NHRC said the state’s police chief had made “hasty and irresponsible” statements. Pannalal said the police had persuaded the nuns to burn the victim’s clothes, rather than taking them as evidence, telling them the clothes would remind them of the incident.
HERE’S SOME CONTEXT
Dalits account for two-thirds of India’s Christian population, who number more than 80 million, or 7 per cent of India’s total population, by some estimates.
A 1950 law listed Hindu Dalits as “Scheduled Caste”, which made them eligible for free education and set aside jobs in government and seats in state legislatures to improve their status. The privileges were extended to Sikh Dalits in 1956, and to Buddhist Dalits in 1990. They are not available to Muslim and Christian Dalits.
In a separate judgment on January 6, the NHRC ordered that compensation be paid to 16 women who were raped or sexually assaulted by security forces between October 2015 and March 2016 in remote villages in Chhattisgarh.
Eight women who were raped were each awarded Rs 300,000 (US $4,000); six women who were sexually assaulted were each awarded Rs 200,000 ($3,000); and two women who were physically assaulted were each awarded Rs 50,000 ($730).
“It is extremely difficult for women from the marginalized communities to get justice,” Shalini Gera, an associate of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, which documented the assaults on the tribal women, told WWM.
Gera said her organization had filed complaints with the NHRC on behalf of 34 assaulted women – 17 of whom were raped – after police tried “to whitewash” the crimes. Of these, she said the NHRC has passed judgment in 18 cases so far, as the investigators have not yet met the other victims. At least two of the victims were Christians.
“What worries us is the pattern in all these assaults on tribal women,” she said. “The assaults are not one-offs. They took place in three areas over three months in two districts. It is a structural problem.”
Daya Bai, a well-known secular social activist based in the troubled Baxar district, where most of reported rapes took place, said “justice is a mirage for women from vulnerable sections [of society]”.
“I am myself fighting a case of the murder of a high-school girl that has been passed off as suicide. Nothing has happened in this case so far, as the victim is from a Dalit family,” she said.
Meanwhile, on January 10 , a trial court acquitted a Catholic priest, nun and female hostel attendant who had been accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl – also in Chhattisgarh in September 2015.
The Chhattisgarh Citizens’ Joint Action Committee, which was formed to pursue justice for the rape of the nun, said in a statement that it “welcomes this decision”.
“The accuser – a minor 10-year-old girl – could not identify any of the accused, Father Joseph Dhanaswami, Sister Christo Maria and Philomina Kerketta,” the statement read.
Father Poomattam said the accusations had been “fabricated” by Hindu nationalists in retaliation for the strong protests by the Church against police inaction over the nun’s rape.
“Now the truth has come out,” he said.
Yesterday (11 January) Open Doors International, which researches and supports Christians under pressure for their faith globally, published its annual 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it’s most difficult to live as a Christian. This year, India – the world’s largest democracy – rose to No. 15: it shows evidence of one of the greatest increases in animosity towards Christians as a result of religiously motivated nationalism. In 2014, before Modi’s election, it was at No. 28.
World Watch Monitor original article / TRUNEWS summary.
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