NEW DELHI — Two weeks after a 74-year-old nun was gang-raped by masked young men who broke into a convent during the early hours of March 14 in the town of Ranaghat, 50 miles from Kolkata, the nation is yet to recover from the shock of the heinous crime.
While media continue to criticize the police for their failure to arrest the four culprits — whose faces were caught on security cameras — protests continue throughout the country, even as the elderly nun, who underwent surgery afterward, has been moved out of the West Bengal state where the crime occurred.
“This is an abominable crime. I don’t how human beings can do such an act,” Cardinal Cleemis mar Baselios, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), told the Register March 23.
However, Cardinal Baselios reported that he was “amazed by the serenity and the grace” shown by the elderly nun, who remains unidentified, when he visited her in the hospital on March 18, after she was brutalized by the intruders who broke into the Jesus and Mary Congregation convent and school.
“I offer my suffering to Jesus, so that it may bring blessing to the Church,” the nun told Cardinal Baselios, who is major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church.
Cardinal Baselios said that while she has forgiven her tormentors, the nun also emphasized, “Justice should be done. This should not be repeated. This should happen to no other women.”
“She is bearing true witness to Christ, and her response is a great model of the Christian spirit of patient suffering,” said Cardinal Baselios, who is based at Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala state in southern India.
Moved by the nun’s witness, Cardinal Baselios gifted his personal rosary blessed by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis to the nun on her hospital bed.
Sexual Violence and Sacrilege
From his meetings with the injured older nun and the two younger nuns at the convent, Cardinal Baselios provided in an email a sequence of what happened during the dreadful night: “We were shocked to listen to their narration of such inhuman and dastardly actions of a group of people, who broke open and entered the convent around midnight, ransacked the rooms, tied the nuns to the bed, threatened them and inflicted sexual violence on one of them.
“They broke the tabernacle, threw away its consecrated Hosts and stole the sacred vessels. They also stole the school money, worth about 2.5 lakhs ($4,000). When these criminals finally left the place around 3:30am, after performing all sorts of diabolic acts, the other two sisters who were locked in a room came out to look for the third sister, whom they found in a pool of blood, motionless. Immediately, they informed the police, and she was rushed to the hospital.”
Cardinal Cleemis reiterated, “We want justice to be done, and the culprits should be booked at the earliest opportunity. No woman in India should be allowed to undergo such a dehumanizing experience in the future.”
While addressing a massive protest in Kolkata on March 16, Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Kolkata urged the government “to arrest the culprits at the earliest and ascertain the motive of such a heinous crime.”
“Only if the culprits are arrested will we know whether there is a conspiracy behind it and who is the mastermind of it,” Archbishop D’Souza told the Register.
The Conference of Religious India (CRI), which represents 125,000 women religious, religious priests and brothers, in a March 15 statement, described the elderly nun’s gang-rape as a “horror.”
“The gang-rape of a [74-year-old] religious woman is beyond all normal descriptions of human depravity,” said the statement, issued by CRI national secretary Salesian Father Joe Mannath. “What fellow human beings did to a frail, ailing, elderly woman of God makes me feel ashamed as an Indian and heartbroken as a human being.”
Meanwhile, under intense media criticism for its failure to arrest the culprits, whom local police claim are “foreign nationals” (allegedly Bangladeshis who might have slipped back to their own country), the West Bengal state has handed over the investigation to the federal government’s special investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation.
India's current BJP government is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is widely accused of promoting aggressive Hindu nationalism.
Since the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or Indian People's Party) assumed power in May 2014, after its landslide victory in Indian national elections, anti-Christian violence has become routine news in the country.
On the night of March 20, for example, closed-circuit cameras recorded masked youth stoning and shattering the glass encasing a statue of St. George at the Catholic church in Navi Mumbai, a suburb of Mumbai.
The next day, Hindu fundamentalists broke in and vandalized the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul at Jabalpur, in Madhya Pradesh state, in central India, disrupting a Bible convention and forcing the priests there to go into hiding.
These latest attacks followed a major protest in New Delhi on March 19, where about 50 secular groups joined hands with representatives of two dozen Christian and Muslim groups marking 300 days of the government led by the prime minister.
After releasing a report titled “300 Days — Documenting Hate and Communal Violence Under the Modi Regime,” opposition political leaders, combined with social activists and Archbishop Emeritus Vincent Concessao of Delhi, unrolled from the podium four 30-foot-long banners. The banners listed the extensive series of attacks on Christians and other “hate crimes” carried out by Hindu nationalists since Modi took office.
John Dayal, the outspoken Catholic activist who compiled the report, said that in the 300 days of the Modi government there have been recorded at least 168 incidents of anti-Christian violence — more than one in every two days — along with more than 400 incidents targeting Muslims.
Several speakers at the protest also condemned the nun’s brutal gang-rape, saying that it has sent shockwaves throughout India and the world.
‘Promises Are Not Enough’
In his comments to the Register, Cardinal Baselios expressed exasperation over the continuing attacks on Christians and Christian targets.
“Promises are not enough,” insisted the cardinal, whose Syro-Malankara Church has 1 million Catholic members in India. “Christians are being singled out for attacks — the government must walk the talk and end this violence.”
Register correspondent Anto Akkara writes from Bangalore, India.