India's Mukhtaran Mai: Nun speaks up in fight for justice

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By CITHARA PAUL in Delhi
  • Published 24.10.08
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New Delhi, Oct. 24: Sister Meena became India’s Mukhtaran Mai when she appeared in public today to speak out about her rape and demand justice.

Face partly covered and voice choking, the Orissa nun recounted before the media in Delhi how one man “stepped on my right hand and another on my left hand and then a third person raped me” during a mob attack on Christians on August 25. She was then paraded “half-naked” for about a kilometre in riot-scarred Kandhamal district.

Declared “absconding” by Orissa police who said they sent three teams but could not find her, Sister Meena denounced the force as “biased” and “friendly” with the attackers.

“I was raped and I now don’t want to be victimised by the Orissa police,” she said, demanding a CBI inquiry.

Reading from a three-page statement she is said to have written herself, Sister Meena said the Orissa government had failed to stop crimes. She took no questions.

It is very unusual in India, or Pakistan, for a rape victim to step out in the media glare to seek justice. Mukhtaran Mai became a symbol of strength for Pakistani women after she spoke out against her gangrape in 2002. She even wrote a blog on the BBC website in 2006, where she said: “I’ll fight as long I’m alive. Some evils are centuries old and deep-rooted and it won’t be easy to rid society of them.”

Sister Meena’s news conference came two days after the Supreme Court ruled out a CBI inquiry into the rape and asked her to co-operate with the police investigation. The court observed that the victim had left the area and was refusing to participate in the test identification parade, although nine persons had been arrested.

The nun said she fled Orissa because she did not trust the police. “I narrated everything to the police, how I was attacked, raped. However, the police did not help me,” she said. They even warned her “of the consequences” of filing an FIR.

“After the rape, I tried to hide but I was traced out. I could hear people shouting that at least 100 people should rape me,” the nun said, adding she was then tied by a rope and made to walk “half-naked” while the mob continued to torment her.

“About a dozen Orissa state armed policemen” saw her being paraded by the mob but did nothing in spite of her pleas, Sister Meena said, adding she had even gone and “sat between two policemen but they did not move”.

Orissa’s Naveen Patnaik government had been repeatedly asking church leaders to co-operate with the interrogation and let the nun identify the arrested.

“How can a rape victim go back to the state which has failed totally to ensure safety and security of its citizens?” asked John Dayal, senior Christian leader and member of the National Integration Council. He said Christian leaders were planning to ask the Supreme Court to review its ruling.

(Pictures by Ramakant Kushwaha)