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India

Rape, murder suspected in Indian Christian woman's death

Police considered it was a case of suicide by poison but a special team is reinvestigating the Punjab case

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Rape, murder suspected in Indian Christian woman's death

People protest in Delhi in this 2013 file photo ahead of a court verdict on those accused of the gang rape of a medical student in the capital in December 2012. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

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The mysterious death of a Christian woman in India's Punjab state three months ago has taken a new turn with her family demanding exhumation of her body, saying she was raped and murdered but police covered up the case.

The body of 20-year-old Jyoti William, who worked as a nursing assistant in a private hospital in Amritsar town, was found in her rented accommodation on Aug. 16.

Police initially suspected it was a case of suicide by injecting poison. However, they later registered a case of causing death by negligence against the house owner and two others.

The dead woman's elder sister, Venus William, asserts that her sister was raped and then injected with poison to kill her and make it look like a suicide. Her sister "had no reason to commit suicide. It was a case of rape and murder," she told UCA News.

The family and some Christian groups plan to move Punjab High Court to exhume her body for a second post-mortem examination with experts.

"We believe a fresh post-mortem will be able to establish our charge," said Minakshi Singh, general secretary of Unity in Christ, a forum of Protestant churches based in New Delhi.

Venus said her sister's body was on the bed. "Bloodstains were found on her leg, and one of her shoes was filled up with blood. There were injury marks on her left eye and neck, and swelling in other parts of the body."

"Her private parts were also not properly covered, indicating that she was raped and killed. Her right hand had some cotton as if someone kept it there to prove that she had committed suicide by injecting poison," Venus said.

"If she had injected poison and killed herself, how could there be so much blood and injuries? Why should clothes be removed from her private parts," she asked.

A three-member church fact-finding team met with family members of the deceased woman. Singh, a team member, told UCA News on Nov. 5 that they "have sufficient grounds to prove that she was raped and murdered."

She said the preliminary autopsy report "has given enough indication that she had not committed suicide. But the police were not ready to acknowledge it," Singh said.

The case is now being investigated by a three-member police special investigation team (SIT) after complaints that police covered up the case.

Police inspector Praveen Kumar, part of the team, said they are waiting for the viscera report. "Until we get the viscera report, we cannot jump to conclusions," he said.

He refused to divulge any details of the probe, saying it would breach its confidentiality.

The Christians also complained to the state minorities commission to ensure justice for the dead woman's family.

Punjab is among Indian states where Christians routinely face attacks and harassment. Several such incidents have taken place in Punjab, but some Christian leaders said the government was not serious about checking them.

In an attack inside a Pentecostal church on Oct. 23, a Christian man was shot dead and three people were injured.

The attack came weeks after the victim had a verbal clash with a local leader over an attempt to disrupt a prayer meeting on alleged charges of religious conversion.

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