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'Religion' saved, with it rapists

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Serafina Mardi, the now-deceased gang rape victim, took her life in protest at the settlement forced on her family by community leaders and Shurshunipara Catholic Church in Godagari upazila.

The settlement, reached in the name of protecting the religion, was designed to save nine men from prosecution for the rape. It came at a time when the case was under trial, said local police and members of the Mardi family.

Both the victim and the accused belonged to indigenous community in Amtulipara village.

As part of the settlement, the nine paid Tk 1.40 lakh to Serafina's family as compensation. Besides, Nirmol Murmu, one of the accused, was ordered to marry Serafina.

But the marriage never took place; it was put only on papers to submit to the court.

Serafina died on Monday, two days after she set herself on fire.

On April 4 last year, she was raped allegedly by Kallus Mardi, Nirmol Murmu, Julian Mardi, Jewel Mardi, Semon Hembrom, Simon Murmu, Porimol Soren, Ilias Murmu and Ranjan Mardi.

Reverend Bernard Tudu, a priest of the church, yesterday said that after the filing of the case, the families of the nine “rapists” had moved to leave the village comprised of 36 indigenous Christian families.

Fearing that the community would be weakened if they left, the local indigenous leaders initiated the settlement.

Talking to The Daily Star at Rajshahi Caritas office, Tudu however denied the church's involvement.

He said the settlement took place on the church premises weeks after the rape incident. He only kept the compensation money to hand it over to the victim's family.

SM Rokon Uddin, superintendent of police in Rajshahi, said the church authorities had the rapists confess to the church.

Police had pressed charges against the nine on August 11 last year, but the court acquitted the accused as no prosecution witness appeared.

The SP said an unnatural death case has been filed following Serafina's suicide. However, no actions have been taken yet against the people involved in the out-of-court settlement, he added.

Meanwhile, the villagers said the “rapists” are still at large threatening the victim's family not to file any more cases.

M Noor Khan, director of Ain o Salish Kendra, a legal aid and human rights organisation, said there is no scope for out-of-court settlement during the trial of a rape case. Involvement in this sort of settlement is a punishable offence.

“The entire process was illegal as it was done to avoid trial. All those who were involved in it must be punished,” observed Khan.

Visiting Amtulipara village yesterday, this correspondent found deep shock and silence gripping the members of the victim's family.

“If the priest asks me to accept the settlement, what else can I do? I have to live here with three other daughters,” said Serafina's father Cornelius Mardi, a farm labourer.

Reverend Tudu, however, denied that he ever met Serafina's father.

Cornelius said Moheswar Soren, Lobin Hembrom, Jotin, Monir Murmu, Amin, Bhawani, Fabian Murmu and Moti Mardi were among those who forced him to accept the settlement.

Serafina's mother Susana Soren alleged that instead of taking actions against the rapists, the community leaders fined her husband Tk 1,200 for yelling at the rapists.

Godagari Pargapa Parishad president Biswanath Tudu, among other community leaders, headed the settlement. He said the settlement was aimed to maintain peace. “While both the sides accepted the judgment, what is the problem here?” he asked.

Dhonai Soren, president of Kakonhat Poura Pargana Parishad, said he had walked out of the meeting to protest the fining instead of a trial.

Soon after the settlement, the accused started roaming freely again, adding to the humiliation and torments Serafina had been going through.

After she set herself ablaze on February 17, she was admitted to the surgery ward of Rajshahi Medical College Hospital.

MA Hannan, head of the surgery ward, said the girl had 75 percent of her body burned and was referred to Dhaka for better treatment. But her family took her back home under a risk bond.

Serafina's father said he took her home as he could not afford going to Dhaka.

Jatiya Adibashi Parishad has protested the rape incident and the settlement and demanded punishment to those responsible.



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