A Catholic priest in northwestern Rajshahi diocese parish says he is not in any way responsible for a payoff that helped prompt the suicide of a tribal girl who was raped by some men of her community ten months ago.
Serafina Mardi, 14, a tribal Santal Catholic girl from Sursunipara parish of Godagari sub-district at Rajshahi died on Monday after she had set herself on fire on Sunday, unable to stand social ostracism any longer, local media reported yesterday.
She was allegedly raped by nine men from her tribal community on her way home from an Easter Sunday program on 4 April, 2010.
Later her father filed a complaint at the local police station against the accused she was able to identify.
She was denied justice as the accused men, influential in the community, paid off her family with 140,000 taka (US$2000) in an out-of-court settlement.
The media accused the parish priest Father Bernard Tudu of conducting the village arbitration to settle the issue mutually with money and withdraw the case from the court.
The priest reportedly also asked them to repent inside the Church publicly holding lit candles.
In a phone interview the parish priest told ucanews.com the media allegations are false.
“I feel sorry for the girl and her family. I was not involved in the settlement and I had no representative in the arbitration. Village leaders asked me to use our auditorium to talk about the mishap and I allowed them,” Father Tudu said.
The priest added that village leaders requested him to keep the money. “I asked them why they settled it out of the court with money and also told them it is not acceptable,” he added.
The priest also asserted that as part of settlement one of the culprits Carlos Mardi, 22 promised to marry the girl. But when he had ascertained there would be no law suit he refused to marry her.
Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace was also condemned the rape and social ostracism of the girl.
“I strongly condemn such an evil act. The death of the girl is so painful. I can’t accept the settlement made by people anyway, it was best to go through lawsuits. The culprits should have been punished,” he said.
Serafina Mardi was deeply depressed mentally and stopped going to school since she was raped, said her elder sister Sabina Mardi.
“She was so distressed that she didn’t go out of her home, seldom spoke to others and didn’t eat properly. Moreover, she was socially ostracized as villagers called her nosta (spoilt). She immolated herself failing to fight insults any more,” she said.
The girl attempted to kill herself several times and she was alone at home when she set herself on fire. She died in the local hospital from more than 70 percent burns.
Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (JAP), a national rights group for tribal people, organized a human chain and handed over a protest memorandum to the home minster through sub-district officer demanding proper investigation of the case and exemplary punishment of the culprits.
“We want justice for this inhumane incident and never want to let it happen again,” said JAP president Anil Marandi.
Dinesh Hasdak, 32, one of the participants in the protest demo,said: “We don’t want to let more Serafinas die like this, and we demand punitive measures for the rapists.”
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