By Matters India Reporter
Kolkata: A trial court in Kolkata, eastern India, on November 8 sent a Bangladeshi national to jail until death for raping an elderly nun during a convent robbery more than two years ago.
Additional Judge Kumkum Sinha also awarded 10 years in jail for five others accused of robbery.
A day earlier, the court pronounced Nazrul Islam alias Noju guilty of raping the 71-year-old nun in the night of March 14, 2015, at a Jesus and Mary convent in Ranaghat, a town in the Nadia district of West Bengal state.
The court also convicted Islam for robbery and criminal conspiracy with four others and a sixth person was held guilty of harboring them.
According to the prosecution, the six accused had forced their way into the nun’s school in Ranaghat, more than 80 km northeast of Kolkata, the state capital. They climbed to the building’s first floor and took whatever valuables they could find. Islam locked the 71-year-old nun in a room and raped her when she tried to resist the looting.
The nun had needed surgery after the brutal attack, which had sparked an outpouring of anger at persistent high levels of sexual assault in the country.
“What happened to the elderly nun is a blot on West Bengal’s legacy where Mother Teresa worked for the poor,” Judge Sinha told a packed court where church officials and some nuns from the convent were present.
The nun, who moved out of the state after the assault, travelled to Ranaghat and identified the accused from a police lineup.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Kolkata says the incident shook people’s conscience and the Church took a long time to recover from the ghastly incident.
Protests erupted in several parts of the country. Well-wishers closed shops, shuttered schools and held candlelit vigils outside the hospital where the nun underwent surgery for injuries suffered during the attack.
Police came under fire for perceived inaction after 10 men were detained but no arrests made, despite the faces of some attackers being captured on CCTV footage.
The victim nun had offered the rapist forgiveness as soon as she recovered from the trauma. However, it was her testimony in the court that ultimately sealed Noju’s fate, reports The Times of India.
The nun, who was transferred to New Delhi after the incident, had given her confidential statement before a court in April 2015. She flew down to Kolkata and travelled to Ranaghat in July 2015, to identify Noju at a test identification parade.
According to church officials, she displayed extraordinary courage and fortitude to travel and face the rapist. She strode straight toward Noju and identified him by touching his hand. Although she didn’t speak, her resolve was unmistakable, an official recounted.
Acting on her petition at the Calcutta high court that the trial was shifted from Ranaghat court to Kolkata Sessions court in May 2016. She had cited fears of her safety as the accused allegedly had strong links in Ranaghat.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Kolkata has expressed happiness over the verdict and reiterated the demand for severest punishment that can serve as a deterrent against such heinous acts in future.
Father Dominic Gomes, the archdiocese’s vicar general, said in offering forgiveness, the nun did what she had learnt in her monastic life. “But law cannot be blind to crime. For society’s sake, the guilty must face punishment,” the priest explained.
He said it would send a wrong message if a person who raped an elderly, helpless nun was allowed to go free.
Archbishop D’Souza too, wants the guilty punished. But he is also keen that the guilty be made aware of their heinous crime during jail term.
In the days following the crime, the church had piled pressure on the Mamata Banerjee government, demanding swift justice. At the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the clergy had demanded visible action and requested the chief minister to hasten arrests. The probe was thereafter handed over to Criminal Investigation Department.
“We are happy the government acted promptly following public protests against the crime and call for justice from the church. What happened in Nadia is sad for humanity, society, country,” he said after the court held the accused guilt. “On this day, our prayers go out to the nun who underwent the trauma and yet had the courage to forgive the perpetrator,” he added.
India recorded 34,651 rape cases in 2015, according to the government date. However, women activists and others says the true figure is likely to be much higher given the social stigma that surrounds such cases.
India strengthened its laws on sexual violence after the fatal gang-rape of a Delhi student five years ago caused global outrage, but attacks remain widespread and enforcement is patchy.
Meanwhile a rightwing portal has demanded an apology from the Indian Church leaders for allegedly blaming the Narendra Modi government for the Ranaghat incident.
“The immediate verdict by the church, opposition political parties, commentators and the so-called Left-liberal cabal was that the alleged rape, and the looting … was a hate crime and yet another attack on minorities after the Narendra Modi government came to power,” says swarajyamarg.com, a 61-year-old independent media start-up.
The court verdict, it says, is “a resounding slap on the faces of those who gave a communal color to what was a case of dacoity.”
It now wants Cardinals Baselios Cleemis and Oswald Gracias to apologize for “communalizing the Nadia incident and leveling false allegations against the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance government led by Modi.
“It is only fair that they publicly retract their earlier statements about the Nadia incident being another in a series of attacks on minorities in India. They should apologize to Prime Minister Modi for criticizing him,” the portal added.