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Indian church leaders hail nun for speaking out about rape ordeal


Church leaders and activists have hailed as "courageous" the decision by a young Roman Catholic nun to publicly recount how she was raped by Hindu extremists in India’s eastern Orissa state, and who has reiterated her demand for federal police to investigate the case.

More than 20 television crews and many more photographers had flocked to the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi on 25 October to cover the news conference by the 29-year old nun, Sister Meena Barwa. With most of her face covered with a shawl, she read out a two-page description of her ordeal on 25 August. Her address was punctuated by sobs and tears.

"They pulled off my sari and one of them stepped on my right hand and another on my left hand and then a third person raped me," said the nun who said she could identify her assailants.

She said she was later marched semi-naked past a crowd and said she was slapped and beaten when she tried to resist having her remaining clothes torn off. The nun was paraded along with the Rev. Thomas Chellan, director of the pastoral centre, under whom she worked. They were taken to a market, the nun recounted, noting that 12 police officers were sitting there and watching, "but they did not move."

The nun said she had faced warnings from police officials about the "consequences" of filing a rape complaint and that police made her rewrite her complaint three times, asking her not to mention them in her account.

"I was raped and now I don’t want to be victimised by the Orissa police," she said, demanding a full inquiry by the federal police’s Central Bureau of Investigation.

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, told Ecumenical News International on 28 October, "She had to come out because the top court refused to listen to her plea."

The news conference by the nun came two days after the federal Supreme Court rejected the church’s plea for a CBI inquiry into the alleged rape. The court stated it feared "bias" at the hands of Orissa police who had been accused of condoning the violence against Christians.

Dayal said the nun had "immense courage" to address the media conference and the church leaders decided to go ahead with the step "to present her case before the world’s court through the media". However, the final choice to address media had been the nun’s, he said, "as she could not expect justice" from the Orissa police. Dayal said the news conference was also a reaction to a demand by Hindu extremist groups for the arrest of the nun for "false claims of rape" and defaming the Orissa police.

"We salute the courage of this nun," Methodist Bishop Tharanath Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India, told ENI. "It is shameful that a nun raped in public would have to go to the media to demand an unbiased inquiry."

(c) Ecumenical News International