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Court acquits accused in Indian nun rape case

Church officials are waiting to see what action state govt will take to ensure justice for the victim

Court acquits accused in Indian nun rape case

Catholic nuns and others in New Delhi protest against the rape of a Catholic nun in Raipur, in this file photo. The court Jan. 5 criticized a poor police investigation that resulted in the acquittal of the accused. (ucanews.com photo)

Published: January 11, 2017 05:41 AM GMT

Updated: January 11, 2017 05:44 AM GMT

Church officials in India are upset over the acquittal of two people accused of gang raping a Catholic nun and are awaiting a response from the Chhattisgarh state government before taking further legal action.

A fast-track court in the eastern Indian state acquitted 19-year-old Dinesh Dhurv and 25-year-old Jitendra Pathak on Jan. 5. The men were accused of raping a 48-year-old Catholic nun in a church-run health care center in the state’s capital of Raipur on June 20, 2015.

The court said investigators had failed to provide enough evidence to establish the crime. Criticizing the investigation, Judge Nidhi Sharma observed "serious negligence" by police investigating the case.

The court’s verdict follows similar criticism by the church. Two months into the investigation, church officials and India’s National Human Rights Commission accused police and government officials of mishandling the investigation.

Father Sebastian Poomattam, vicar general of Raipur Diocese, told ucanews.com that they are waiting to see what action the government will take to ensure justice for the victim. They also want to see if the state will act against police officials who did not handle the case properly, the priest said. 

He said that senior police officials were refusing to accept the nun was raped and tried to pass it off as a case of trespassing. "We are sad and deeply concerned about such developments," Father Poomattam said.

Police, working under the state’s pro-Hindu government, did not take the case seriously and delegated the investigation to "a lower ranking officer," he said.

According to High Court lawyer Rajesh Chand, the next move should come from the state. "Since it is a criminal case, the state government is the prosecuting agency and hence it is the duty of the state government to decide about the future course of action," Chand told ucanews.com.

However, if the victim finds that the government "is not doing enough, she can also move an appeal in the High Court, seeking a retrial, as the trial court has already observed that no proper investigation has been done."

Father Poomattam said if the government does not act, "we will do whatever we can to get justice for the victim."

The nun said she was sleeping at the health center when two masked men barged in around 1.30 a.m., tied her hands and feet to the bed and drugged her before gang raping her.

Police initially downplayed the incident, saying two people had broken in and molested the nun. However as protests began and pressure mounted from Christian bodies and opposition parties, police interrogated some 200 people and arrested two.

Christian leaders such as Father Poomattam said their people in Chhattisgarh have faced waves of attacks from right wing Hindu groups, especially after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to power in New Delhi in May 2014. 

Chhattisgarh state has been ruled by the BJP since 2003 but in the past few months "things have cooled down" as five states are going to the polls this year, said Father Poomattam. "Maybe they don’t want to antagonize religious minorities for some time," he said.


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