An Indian court on Wednesday sentenced a Bangladeshi man to life in prison for raping an elderly Catholic nun in eastern India’s West Bengal state over 2 years ago.
The 71-year-old Indian Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM) needed surgery after the attack on 14 March, 2015 when a gang of robbers broke into the order’s Convent of Jesus and Mary school in Ranaghat, some 80 kms north of the state capital Kolkata, where she lived in the residential block. It was one of the several cases that fueled anger at high levels of sexual violence in the nation.
"What happened to the elderly nun is a blot on West Bengal's legacy where Mother Teresa worked for the poor," additional judge Kumkum Singha told a packed court in Kolkata, where Church officials and some nuns from the school were present.
On Tuesday the court found Nazrul Islam, alias Noju, guilty of rape and attempted murder, among other offences. Five others arrested, found guilty of charges unrelated to the sexual assault, were sentenced on Wednesday to 10 years in prison.
The nun, who cannot be named for legal reasons, moved out of West Bengal after the assault. She later travelled to Ranaghat and identified the accused from a police lineup, chief public prosecutor Tamal Mukerjee told AFP.
The prosecution had charged all the six with gangrape, robbery and criminal conspiracy among others. The judge noted the charge of gangrape was established only in the case of Nazrul Islam. The only Indian, Gopal Sarkar, was found guilty of harbouring the five criminals at his residence.
Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Kolkata, told AFP, "The incident shook the conscience of people. It took the Church a long time to recover from the ghastly incident."
Government data for 2015 shows 34,651 rapes in India were recorded, but campaigners say the true figure is likely to be much higher given the social stigma that still surrounds such cases.