Sabina Mardi reads out a statement demanding security for her family at a press conference in Rajshahi city yesterday (www.thedailystar.net)
Safety fears are growing in northwest Bangladesh for the family of a raped Catholic girl who killed herself recently, prompting calls from the family and rights groups for police and government protection.
Family members of 14-year-old Serafina Mardi, say they are being ostracized and abused by villagers in Amtolipara, a Santal tribal community near Rajshahi.
Serafina was gang-raped by nine men 10 months ago and killed herself by setting herself on fire last month.
Her death on February 20 prompted police to arrest 10 men including the local parish priest Father Bernard Tudu. He is accused of provoking the death of the girl by arranging an out-of-court settlement with the nine alleged rapists.
He denies the charge, saying he feels sorry for the girl and her family. "I was not involved in the settlement and I had no representative in the arbitration," he said.
“We’re being socially ostracized and people are threatening us. Village leaders are angry with us for going to the police and press to demand justice,” said Sabina Mardi, 20, Serafina’s older sister.
She was speaking at a press conference in Rajshahi to highlight her family’s plight.
“They [the villagers] are being abusive. We’re living in fear. We demand protection for the family and punishment for the guilty,” she said in a statement.
Human rights groups have echoed the families demand for protection.
“It is really painful that the family in threatened by their community. It is happening because most of the accused are local villagers,” said Anil Marandi, president of the National Indigenous Council (NIC).
“We’ve assured the family that they have our support and told them not be frightened,” he added.
He said the NIC along with the Bangladesh Women’s Council and the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association will press police and local authorities to ensure that the Mardi family is protected.
Meanwhile, a court has rejected bail applications for the nine accused rapists and the parish priest.
Father Subroto Purification from the Rajshahi bishop’s house
said the diocese will apply to a higher court to try and get Father Tudu bail.