Ranaghat Rape Incident: Government Brands Protest as Conspiracy

In the wee hours of 14th March, 2015 (last Saturday), our state managed to register another rape incident, not that this incident should surprise us very much, given the manner in which, West Bengal is forging ahead with respect to sexual offences against women. But, the circumstances of this incident are a little different. The victim this time is a 71-year-old nun, who was in-charge of finances at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, in Ranaghat some 80kms from Kolkata. The victim was so grievously injured that, she had to undergo an operation. At about 2.30 am on the day in question, 7-8 armed robbers entered the premises after overpowering the Security Guard on duty and initially ransacked the place and then, moved onto the residential quarters of the nuns. Here, the victim had tried to restrict them and then she was subjected to gang-rape while two other younger nuns cowered in the corner and were the ones to give eye-witness accounts later. After vandalising the school premises and indulging in sexual assault, the men finally left with about 12 lakh rupees in cash. 

Christian missionaries have a strong presence in Ranaghat and surrounding areas, particularly in the field of providing education. The convent in question mainly caters to the education of children belonging to families of workers of the nearby Jute mill. Now, it is being suspected that, the incidents of the 14th were in response to an altercation that took place between the nun who was gang-raped and the family of a boy who had been suspended earlier. It has been more than a week since the attack and still the police have failed to arrest any of the culprits, only managed to sustain certain suspects. But, this outraged not only the Christian community but the public in general because in this case, there is the presence of CCTV footage showing four men vandalising the staff room at the Convent and these men were the ones to have allegedly assaulted the victim. The availability of such incriminating evidence in rape cases of recent times is a rarest of rare occurring. But the police still fail to act on this evidence. On 16th March, 2015, the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee decided to pay a visit to the Convent. While, returning back to Kolkata, she was met by a sea of people (mainly students) protesting against the attack and demanding a CBI probe into the case. The CM’s convoy was stranded on NH 34 for quite a while and the crowd only dispelled after they received assurance of appropriate action personally from the Chief Minister. This is the first instance, where in the Chief Minister is asking for a CBI Probe herself.

The archbishop of Kolkata, Thomas D’Souzasaid, soon after the incident was made public,"I am shocked. Such an attack on an elderly sister is a rare incident, first time in Bengal and possibly the first time in India. It is deeply distressing.” The Convent had been functioning peacefully in the town for the past 19 years, but their peace had been shattered three weeks prior to the incidents of 14th March, 2015. The convent had received death threats and calls for extortion which, had been reported to the local authorities, but no investigation had been made into these complaints. The attack on the Convent comes at a crucial time, when already we see a worsening trend of security for the Christian minority and that too within less than a year since, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. Even though the rape and robbery does not have clear religious undertones, you can’t help but notice their timing and the backdrop of the ‘GharWapasi’ mission set in motion by the various Hindu Nationalist groups with support from the new Central government of course. The striking thing about this particular assault is the convergence of two contemporary evils, namely, violence against women and attacks against religious minorities. 

After the attack, PM Modi had expressed his deep concern and so did the fundamental Hindu nationalist groups which support him. But, they also did not fail to add that, their ‘GharWapasi’ mission will not lose momentum in light of these incidents. About a month back, we had heard RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat accuse Mother Teresa of converting Hindus to Christianity through her charitable work. Despite a commitment to the preservation of the Catholic faith, and religious classes for Catholic children, many of the Ranaghat School’s 800 pupils are Hindus. Parents of the pupils are also assured of the fact that, the Convent does not have any hidden ‘mass-conversion’ propaganda. 

Sister Janet supervises a network of 40 Convent of Jesus and Mary schools in India said, "We cannot blame anyone, but the statements by leaders of hardline Hindu organisations do make an impact on the society, they want people to start viewing our charitable work as a strategy to expand Christianity."