By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Catholic bishops in India have expressed deep pain and anguish at the increasing incidents of crimes against women in the country.
“We condemn strongly these dastardly incidents or elements that have committed or supported such acts which have brought great shame on our nation,” says a press release issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) on April 15 amid nationwide protests against the crimes.
The bishops offered the Indian Church’s solidarity with the victims of what he termed was horrific crime committed in the nation.
The statement signed by CBCI secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas was issued a day after a court in Lucknow sent a legislator to a seven-day judicial custody. He was arrested April 13 by the Central Bureau of Investigation for allegedly raping a 17-year-old girl in Unnao district in the northern Indian state.
“We are not a soulless nation. If we were, then the outpouring of anger as we have seen it across the nation would not have been manifest,” Bishop Mascarenhas said commenting on the nationwide protests against the crimes, especially the rape and murder of Asifa, an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Our nation has a soul, a heart and a mind. A soul to respond to these unspeakable crimes committed against women, a heart that reaches out in empathy and solidarity and a mind that does not fall for hate games played by those who wish to pollute the sacred secular fiber of the nation,” he added.
The prelate says none can remain unmoved at what had happened to Asifa in Kashmir’s Kathua district. The girl, a member of a nomadic group, went missing in January while grazing horses in Rassana forest. A week later, her body was recovered with head smashed. Investigations revealed she was held captive inside a temple and was sedated before being repeatedly raped and murdered.
“What has made the incidents in Kathua and Unnao even more deplorable is the justification by certain sections of society; the very people who should uphold the rule of law have either become the alleged perpetrators or the defenders of the indefensible,” the prelate lamented. “There is no justification for rape; none what so ever and every voice of sanity must speak out in one voice against such crimes,” he added.
The prelate noted that “the darkest side of human behavior” displayed in Kathua and Unnao gave the impression that India has thrown humanity out of widow.
“The repeated targeting of women and children as a tool or agenda for personal, religious or political gain is nothing less than a crime against humanity and it is here that we look for the voices of sanity, in the pillars of democracy to speak out boldly and immediately; for when this is not done it gives a boost to actions of the perpetrators of such crimes,” the bishops’ statement says.
“The eight year girl in Kathua and the twenty year old maiden from Unnao and every woman is our daughter, our sister, our mother. Their religion or caste does not in any way make them belong less to us,” Bishop Mascarenhas asserts.
He promised the Catholic Church’s support to any effort to stop “the most unspeakable crimes” that women face daily in India
India registered nearly 40,000 rape cases in 2016, up from 25,000 in 2012, according to government data. Thousands more go unreported, activists say.
Meanwhile Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and a four-time lawmaker, remained defiant in claiming his innocence and said he had ‘faith in the judiciary’.
The CBI also arrested Shashi Singh, the woman who allegedly took the victim to Sengar on the day of crime.
The case came to light April 8 when the victim and her family demonstrated outside Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence, alleging police inaction against the accused. The family alleged that the woman was raped by the MLA and his accomplices last year. The kin added that the family was thrashed after a complaint was filed with the police in this regard.
“I was raped. I have been running pillar to post for the last one year but no one is listening to me. I want to see all of them arrested, otherwise I will kill myself,” the victim said. She added, “I had even approached the CM to no result. When we lodged an FIR, we were threatened.”
The case worsened when the victim’s father died in judicial custody a day later.
The legislator’s brother, Atul Singh Sengar, was arrested along with four others, for allegedly thrashing the victim’s father.
Atul was charged under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) of the Indian Penal Code.
The National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and the state police chief, seeking a detailed report on the death of the father, and directed authorities to ensure “the aggrieved family is not subjected to further harassment”. The commission observed that the allegations, if true, raised a serious issue of violation of human rights of the victim family.
It also issued notices to the chief secretary and the director general of police of Uttar Pradesh, seeking a detailed report, including action taken against the “delinquent police officials”, who allegedly refused to register an FIR.