Nun in Chhattisgarh, India Says Two Masked Men Bound, Raped Her

Christians protest official downplay of severity, religious motives of attack.

The Rev. Sebastian Poomattam, vicar general of Raipur Archdiocese. (St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church)

The Rev. Sebastian Poomattam, vicar general of Raipur Archdiocese. (St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church)

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Contrary to police reports, a nun with her face covered said yesterday at a press conference in Chhattisgarh state that two men raped her at a medical clinic in Raipur on Saturday (June 20).

The unidentified, 47-year-old nun told media that two masked men entered her room at the Christ Help Center (Khrist Sahay Kendre) at about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday. When she asked them if they wanted money, they replied, “We want much more than money,” she said.

One of the men held her while the other forced drugs into her mouth and gagged her with a cloth, she said, flanked by representatives of minority groups and political parties. The two assailants then tied her to the cot with her sari and used a long head scarf to bind her hands before taking turns raping her, she said.

Police previously told media that she later changed the accusation to attempted rape, legally “sexual assault” under Indian law. The nun said at the press conference that she never denied that she was raped. Police are still publically saying she accused the men of attempted rape, though the First Information Report claims “rape.”

She did not regain consciousness and the ability to say what had happened until hours after the superior at the medical clinic found her after daybreak, according to reports, and she has been receiving treatment for trauma. The Rev. Sebastian Poomattam, vicar general of the Raipur Archdiocese, said in an online statement two days after the assault, “The victim is still not in her normal senses.”

The nun, who is from Kerala state and belongs to the Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, was the only nurse on duty and had instructed two female aides to go to bed before she retired for the night, as there were no other patients in the small facility.

Her superior in a nearby building called her the next morning, and when she received no answer, she reportedly came and found the victim unconscious, gagged and tied to her cot.

“Both her hands were tied to rails of the cot behind the head, and one sari was used to tie her waist to the cot,” Poomattam reported. “She was also gagged with cloth. The room was vandalized, and things were thrown all around, including some money on the ground.”

The superior reportedly found money scattered on the floor and 26,000 rupees (US$410) on a shelf that had not been taken, casting doubt on police statements that the men entered the room in search of cash and valuables and assaulted her after failing to find anything.

A doctor from a health center who accompanied police arriving at the scene expressed alarm at the victim’s condition, but a medical examination did not take place until the afternoon, after police transferred the victim to Ambedkar Medical College in Raipur.

“The police version, according to the Inspector General of Raipur, is that it is a matter of sexual assault and that no rape has taken place, but a case has been registered under section 376 [concerning rape] of the Indian Penal Code,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission.

Christian organizations joined advocacy groups and political parties in Raipur on Monday (June 22) to protest the alleged rape and official attempts to diminish the severity and religious motivations of it.

“The breaking into a Christian medical center, the identification of a religious person and the assault shows that it was religiously motivated,” Dr. John Dayal, spokesperson for the United Christian Forum, told Morning Star News. “The focus of the government should be to catch the guilty and to fulfil, nationally, the so-called promise of the prime minister of India that an environment will be created in which such violence will not be attempted against the Christian community.”

He said the attack was one of several cases of anti-Christian violence in Chhattisgarh state, and that it was noteworthy that it took place in an urban setting rather than in a remote village. Dayal added that the attack took place despite an announcement by the prime minister of “zero tolerance of crimes against religious institutions and personnel, which presumably includes Christian religious institutions and personnel as well.”

“The victim was found under circumstances and in a physical condition that shows acute sexual violence, whether the legal definition of rape was fulfilled or not, and therefore it invites as severe a punishment as any other case of rape,” he said.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India condemned the incident in the strongest of terms, Lal said, noting that recent attacks on Christians across India, and the nature of this assault, have given rise to much anguish among the Christian community.

“Nuns live their lives in worship to God and render unconditional service towards fellow human beings, and their targeting in this manner is deplorable,” Lal said. “This is the second major case of sexual assault on a nun since March this year, when a 70-year-old nun was raped by six men at Ranaghat, West Bengal.”

The EFI has urged the state and the central government to intervene and to arrest the culprits.

“We have also demanded that the state government of Chhattisgarh and the central government take measures to provide adequate security to Christian missionaries and clergy,” he added. “We have observed what looks like a deliberate softening of the incident by the government. Even the government spokesperson said that a ‘nurse was raped,’ downplaying the fact that she is a nun. The protest on June 22 by members of civil society and by Christians was against this lax attitude displayed by the police and the administration.”

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