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'Ghar wapsi was motive behind Ranaghat attack'

By Indrani Roy/
March 19, 2015 09:29 IST
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'If robbery was their motive, they would have run away with the money.'

'After taking the money, they gang-raped the nun, desecrated the chapel, threw the Holy Communion, broke the statue and ran away with Mother Mary's crown.'

'We must not forget that vandalising churches and dishonouring Christians has become a regular affair in India in the past few months. This incident is a part of such destructive patterns.'

"There is enough evidence which indicates that ghar wapsi was the main motive behind the Ranaghat incident," says Professor Maria Fernandes, vice chairperson of the West Bengal Minorities Commission.

At a convent school in Gangnapur village in Ranaghat in West Bengal's Nadia district, a gang of four to six men ransacked and robbed the school, and raped a 72-year-old nun last week.

A day after her visit to the convent, a visibly-shaken Professor Fernandes, below, left, spoke to Indrani Roy/ at her office in central Kolkata.

"I am sad. And I am angry, very very angry," she says. "How could someone molest our mother? Are we moving back to the Dark Ages?"

Professor Fernandes visited the rape survivor at the hospital on Tuesday and was amazed by her strength of mind and calm disposition.

"It is sickening to think that someone could attack such a divine soul," she says.

The commission submitted its first report to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee shortly after this interview ended.

Why do you think that ghar wapsi is behind this incident?

We have proof that suggests that those people had come to the convent to vandalise and to desecrate the Christian place of worship.

If robbery was their motive, they would have run away with the money.

Besides, though a section of the media is claiming that there was 5, 6 lakh (Rs 500,000 to Rs 600,000) kept in the convent on that particular day, I found out that the convent had kept aside about Rs 70,000 to 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) only to meet its daily expenses.

Moreover, after taking the money, they gang-raped the nun, desecrated the chapel, threw the Holy Communion, broke the statue and ran away with Mother Mary's crown.

Why so? Who can provide an answer?

We must not forget that vandalising churches and dishonouring Christians has become a regular affair in India in the past few months.

This incident is a part of such destructive patterns.

And in this particular case, to everybody's shock, the offenders went to the extent of raping a nun.

You said you had met top administrative officials at Ranaghat.

It was essential for me to meet the administrative heads for compiling an unbiased report.

From my interactions, I gathered that the gang's intent was to attack Christian sentiment.

Initial probe by the state Criminal Investigation Department also sends out such a signal.

Though it is too early to draw a conclusion, it is quite clear that the ghar wapsi issue topped the goons's agenda.

If what you are suggesting is true, who do you think could have implanted those criminals?

(Pauses) That's for the CID to find out.

After my visit to the convent and discussions with the relevant people, I am almost certain that those people don't belong to this state. Even Father Saroj, the parish priest of Ranaghat, feels the same.

Professor Maria FernandesDuring your conversation with the nuns at the convent, did you get any information about the attackers?

There were about six of them and one wearing a monkey cap (as caught on the closed-circuit television) was apparently the kingpin. The others were referring to him as 'Boss.'

They were speaking in heavily accented Hindi and casually mentioned that they hailed from Punjab.

Everything that the gang did seemed meticulously planned. They are hardened criminals, who visited the convent with a purpose.

If robbery was all they had in mind, why was our Mother Superior attacked even after she handed over the keys to the safe?

With cool competence, the group ransacked the place, locked up the young nuns in a room, molested the oldest member, had snacks and walked away.

There must have been a great planner who guided them throughout.

Are you satisfied with the progress of investigation so far?

Yes. The CID is working round the clock.

The nuns at the convent too have no complaints.

But as the convent is only 35 km away from Bangladesh, we hope and pray that the group hasn't slipped into that country already.

An alert has been sent out to the BSF (Border Security Force), neighbouring states and to countries bordering West Bengal.

So far, only one person with almost 90 per cent resemblance to a face caught on the CCTV has been detained.

Mamata Banerjee holds the portfolio of minorities affairs and madrassa education. She has been very proactive about minorities issues and in this particular case too, she has taken a prompt step.

I do believe that her sleuths will dig out the truth soon.

How is the Mother Superior doing now? What did she tell you?

She is an epitome of virtue. The horrific episode hasn't dimmed either her smile or her strength. As I stood beside her hospital bed, she blessed me.

She said: 'I possess no hatred for that man. I have forgiven him.' No power on earth can challenge such a spirit. We all wish her a speedy recovery.

She is expected to be discharged from the hospital in a couple of days.

What steps has the commission taken to ensure the safety of other convents in the state?

The commission has identified pockets of Christian minorities, institutions, churches etc. They have been asked to beef up security and to maintain a strict vigil.

BJP National Secretary Siddharth Nath Singh on Sunday challenged Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien to hold a protest march in the city over the gang-rape of the nun, the way he did in New Delhi after a church was destroyed there.

Though I am an apolitical person, I have to ask Singh what progress has the Delhi church vandalism probe made so far. How many arrests have been made?

Why hasn't the Centre come out with a clear statement on the issue?

To compare the Ranaghat incident with the Delhi one is both insensitive and blunt. At the Ranaghat convent, a criminal dishonoured a mother figure, he shook our belief in humanity.

Whether we hold a candle rally or not isn't important, but what is needed is that we walk in tandem to fight this injustice.

According to Singh, the Ranaghat incident marked the failure of law and order in the state.

This is not the time to politicise such a grave issue. A nun has been raped. It is a gruesome act that needs severe punishment.

If the state has failed to provide the convent adequate security, what was the Centre doing?

Isn't a state's law and order part of the Centre's responsibility as well?

Some social scientists feel that those who masterminded the Ranaghat incident wanted to sow seeds of communalism in the state.

If it is so, their mission has failed miserably. Instead of creating differences among various religions, this incident has united them like never before.

Now, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists have come together for a common cause -- to avenge the dishonour of their mother.

It is time we raise our voices and seek protection for ourselves, our mothers, sisters, daughters.

We are not talking religion here. It is all about us.

Image: Students participate in a rally protesting the gang-rape of a nun in West Bengal. Photograph: PTI

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Indrani Roy/ in Kolkata
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