04/20/2018, 18.04
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Indian Catholics and Protestants against girl rape

Last Wednesday, 28 Catholic bishops held a prayer vigil in front of Delhi’s cathedral. In 2016, a sexual offence against a minor was committed every 15 minutes, and more than 100 women were raped every day. Caritas is providing sanitary napkins to counter school dropout.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic bishops of northern India organised a prayer vigil  for Asifa Bano, the 8-year-old girl raped and murdered in Jammu and Kashmir, and for a 16-year-old  who was raped by a lawmaker from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh.

The event was held Wednesday in front of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi, in collaboration with Signis India and the Archdiocesan Youth Commission.

The prelates expressed their strong condemnation of the violence against women and children. Mgr William D'Souza, archbishop of Patna, told Matters India that "the only sure resort we have for justice is prayer".

In all, 28 bishops took part in the initiative, together with many believers.

“The situation in the country over the victimisation of minors and vulnerable persons calls for clear conciseness to help prevent such incidents,” said Archbishop D’Souza as he lit the first candle.

Protestants also spoke out against the brutal treatment of Asifa, who was drugged and tortured for days by a group of Hindus in Kathua.

'It is time for India to acknowledge it has a problem with how it treats women,' said Bishop Joseph D'Souza, moderator of the (Evangelical) Church of the Good Shepherd of India.

'When there is any religious fundamentalism, and I am not just talking about Hindu fundamentalism, it ends up targeting women,” he told Christian Today.

Mgr D'Souza’s reference is to the fact that Asifa Bano was raped in revenge against her father, a member of the Gujjar community, nomadic Muslim shepherds who cross the Himalayas with their herds of goats and buffaloes, sparking anger among sedentary communities.

For women, he added, “it is not necessary to have conflict [for this to happen]. They are still raped and attacked.”

According to Child Rights and You (CRY), data indicate a rise in sexual crimes against children, from 18,967 cases in 2006 to 106,958 in 2016.

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2016 suggest that crimes against children in India have increased by 14 per cent over 2015. This means that in India a child is victim of a sexual offence every 15 minutes.

In all, 38,947 rape-related cases were reported in 2016 in the country, the NCRB said. This represents a 12 per cent rise from 34,651 cases in 2015. Thus, on average, more than a hundred cases of rape are reported every day.

Bishop D'Souza admitted that it was 'unfortunate' that in the Church in India “there is no voice strong enough to stand up for gender equality. I find this extremely troubling,' he said.

“Unless there is teaching on gender equality within the Church then churches are not going to be clean when it comes to this broader problem [of the objectification of women].”

Fr Frederick D'Souza, director of Caritas India, spoke to AsiaNews about a series of initiatives his organisation has undertaken to restore the dignity to women in rural areas.

"In Bihar we are working with Dalit girls, originally known as ‘Musahar’, which means ‘rat eaters’,” he explained.

Traditionally members of this community have had to eat rat because of abject poverty and discrimination.

At the same time, to solve the problem of early school dropout, Caritas has set up a machine to make sanitary napkins and trained women to use it.

Girls “do not go to school,” Fr D'Souza bemoaned because of “a taboo to speak about menstruation and [as a result,] parents marry them off immediately.”

For this reason, “We have formed groups of mothers and fathers to encourage them to send the children to school.”

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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