10/24/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Sister raped in Orissa accuses police of being "friendly" toward rapists

by Nirmala Carvalho
For the first time, after almost two months, the religious testifies in public to the violence she suffered at the beginning of the fundamentalist Hindu attacks in the district of Kandhamal.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Facing the public after two months of silence, Sister Meena Barwa, who was raped by Hindu fundamentalists last August 25, read a statement calling for justice. Sister Meena, 29, was one of the first victims of the pogrom against the Christians launched by radical Hindu groups in Orissa almost two months ago. In addition to accusing her attackers, the religious, under a great deal of stress and in tears, also accused the police of being too "friendly" toward her rapists.

Sr. Meena Barwa, of the Servite religious order, worked at the Divyajyoti pastoral center in K Nuagaon, in the district of Kandhamal, together with Fr. Thomas Chellan (cf. Orissa: after his calvary Father Thomas willing to go back to serve those who hurt him). The sister was born in the district of Sambalpur, and took her final vows last April. Last August 25, together with the priest who worked at the center, she was seized, beaten, stripped naked, and paraded around the village. At one point, the fundamentalists wanted to burn her alive together with the priest. Instead, they raped her. Only much later, at night, after the beating and mistreatment continued, were the two freed by the police.

The press conference took place at the Indian Social Institute. Together with the sister were some women and the bishop of Bhubaneshwar, Raphael Cheenath, and Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman of the Indian bishops' conference. Sr. Meena had a shawl wrapped around her head and face, leaving only an opening for her eyes so that she could read her statement.

The sister recalled that the police did not believe what she told them, and even advised her not to file a report on the violence. "They tried their best to keep me from registering a formal investigation request. I was raped, and now I don’t want to be victimized by the Orissa police. I want an investigation."

The testimony of Sr. Meena confirms many of the testimonies gathered in recent months, about the lack of neutrality on the part of the police, and their connivance or silence in the face of violence by Hindu fundamentalists. The sister noted that the police were "were friendly with the attackers," and even warned her about the consequences a filing a complaint. "I narrated everything in detail to the police, how I was attacked, raped, taken away from policemen, paraded half naked and how the policemen did not help me when I asked for help while weeping bitterly . . . They were afraid to keep us at the police station, saying the mob might attack the police station."

Archbishop Cheenath comments: "I want the people who are involved in the crime to be brought to light, and for justice to be done for Sr. Meena."

The sister's testimony was necessary because until now, she had not wanted to work with the police, who had wanted her to identify her attackers from among nine people arrested over the incident. Sr. Meena, who has been living in a state of great distress for two months, had refused because she did not trust the attitude of the security forces.

Archbishop Cheenath says: "The sister has has lost her faith in the Orissa police, so she is not interested in assisting them in the investigation."

The investigatory group has said that it is ready to identify the attackers, whether they are in Orissa or outside of it.

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