India: Charges Filed in Rape of Nun

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On January 29, Orissa police filed preliminary charges against 10 men in the rape of a nun during anti-Christian violence in Orissa last August.

The charges were filed at sessions court of Balliguda block in Kandhamal district, where violence against Christians was reported to be the severest. Central Investigation Department Inspector Dilip Mohanty filed the charge sheet before the sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Balliguda.

The deadline for filing charges was upon Orissa police, who are required to do so within 120 days from the date of arrest. Police made the first arrest in the case on Oct. 2, 2008.

"We have submitted the charge sheet within the stipulated 120 days," CID Inspector General Arun Ray told reporters. "Now the court will frame charges and the trial will start."

All of the accused had been arrested earlier by Orissa police: Jhuria Pradhan, Kartik Pradhan, Saroj Bhadei, Muna Bhadei, Tapas Patnaik, Santosh Patnaik, Biren Sahu, Somanath Pradhan, Gajendra Digal and Jharalal Behera. According to the Crime Branch report, Kartik Pradhan is Jhuria Pradhan's son, while Muna Bhadei is the son of Saroj Bhadei. Tapas and Santosh Patnaik are siblings.

In a suspect line-up at Cuttack on Jan. 5, the nun identified Santosh Patnaik and Kartik Pradhan as people involved in the crime.

Police Stood By

A native of Dhama area in Sambalpur district of Orissa, the nun said she was raped in K. Nuagaon village on Aug. 25, 2008, during large-scale violence against Christians that broke out in Kandhamal and surrounding districts of Orissa.

The violence resulted from Hindu extremist organizations blaming Christians for the murder of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23. Police, however, have charged Maoist extremists for the killings. The melee lasted more than two months and resulted in around 120 dead, according to the All India Christian Council , although a Communist Party fact-finding team estimated at least 500 people were murdered. More than 50,000 people were left homeless as some 5,000 houses were burned or destroyed, and 252 churches were destroyed, according to the AICC.

The 29-year-old nun, who was working at Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre in K. Nuagaon, was allegedly dragged and raped by the accused as police looked on. In her First Information Report filed on Aug. 26 at Balliguda police station, according to the Indian Express, she said 40 armed men arrived at Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre on Aug. 24.

"Me and the Father, Thomas Chellantharayil, jumped over the boundary and ran to a nearby forest," she reported. "They were shouting, 'Bharat mata ki jai or Victory to Mother India.' They burned the center. The next day, we concealed ourselves in the house of Prahallad Pradhan of K. Nuagaon, but at 1 p.m. the mob found us and dragged me and father out."

The mob took her to the deserted offices of a local Christian Non-Governmental Organization and forced her clothes off of her, she said. "There one of them raped me. After that, they paraded me naked on the street and took me to an official at K. Nuagaon."

In her FIR, the nun had not named anyone but said that she could identify the victims if they were brought before her. A doctor examined her at 8:45 p.m. on Aug. 25, and the medical report reportedly confirmed rape and sexual assault. Orissa police, however, waited 38 days to pick up the medical report, citing busyness as the reason for delay.

Indian media widely cited laxness on the part of the administration, and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani called it, "a shameful crime against humanity."

The state government suspended five policemen, including Sub-Inspector of Balliguda K.M. Rao, for misconduct and negligence. In the ensuing arrests, Orissa police apprehended some suspects as far away as Palaghat in Kerala, India's southern-most state.

The nun had asked for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the incident in a petition to the Supreme Court in October 2008. The court denied the request and asked her to cooperate with the state's crime branch.

Ray, the CID inspector general, said police have submitted another 50 names who were part of the mob that assaulted the woman, according to the Indian Express. The court is expected to issue non-bail arrest warrants for them. A supplementary charge sheet will be filed after completion of the investigation.

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