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India cardinal meets nun after rape, urges swift justice

KOLKATA: The head of the Catholic church in India demanded swift justice Wednesday for an elderly nun who was raped during a robbery at a convent, amid growing anger at the lack of arrests over the attack.

While police have taken several people in for questioning, no one has been formally arrested over the incident in West Bengal on Friday, which has again highlighted the frightening levels of sexual violence in India.

After visiting the victim in hospital as well as the convent where she was attacked, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis voiced frustration at the lack of progress in the investigation.

“I would like to request the authorities to ensure justice is done,” said Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

“The sisters have forgiven but justice (should) be made visible and such acts should not happen again,” he told reporters in the town of Ranaghat.

“I understand that the process has begun… but I’d like to request the chief minister (Mamata Banerjee) to adopt a faster approach and ensure justice is meted out at the earliest.”

The nun, who is in her 70s, was attacked around midnight when a gang of robbers broke into the convent near Ranaghat and ransacked the premises.

Although police have launched a gang-rape inquiry, officers say only one person sexually assaulted the nun, who needed surgery after the attack but is expected to be shortly released from hospital.

Detectives have released CCTV footage showing the faces of several members of the gang, fuelling frustration that charges have not been forthcoming.

Protests were held in West Bengal and also in the capital New Delhi on Tuesday. Banerjee, who is the state’s top official, was confronted by hundreds of protesters late Monday when she visited the victim.

Deputy police superintendent Ajoy Prasad told AFP Wednesday the nun had recorded her statement, and also confirmed that a hunt for multiple offenders was still under way.

“According to our preliminary investigation there were about eight people who broke into the convent,” he told AFP.

Derek O’Brien, a lawmaker and one of Banerjee’s senior lieutenants, said everything possible was being done to arrest the perpetrators.

“We are in close touch with the nuns, all the church authorities and a CID (top crime investigation agency) probe was ordered five days back,” he told NDTV. “We are doing all it takes to arrest those people.”

The incident adds to a grim record of sexual assaults in India, which this month banned a documentary about a December 2012 gang-rape that sparked domestic and international outrage.

It is also the latest in a string of attacks on churches or Catholic schools, and came despite a pledge by the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure the safety of religious minorities. -AFP

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