A brutal case of sexual violence and murder in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), allegedly by a priest and his aides has shocked the country. The crime came to the fore on the night of Jan. 5, after a post-mortem of the victim— a 50-year-old frontline worker— was found excessively bleeding in her genitals. News reports say that the woman was brought to the police by the accused themselves.
The family of the deceased told the media that the woman had gone to the temple in their village called Ughaiti. “On Sunday, she went to her mother’s place, and while returning, followed her routine practice,” the woman’s son told The Hindu. “At around 11.30 p.m., the priest and his two aides brought her home in a car. They said she fell into the dry well on the temple premises. She was bleeding profusely and soon she died. Before we could ask anything, the three left,” The Hindu quoted him as saying.
UP infamously ranks as one of the most dangerous places for women in the world. Latest official data states that India reported an average of 87 rapes every single day in 2019. UP topped the list of states with the highest number of crimes against women in 2019.
On Thursday, Jan. 7, more outrage followed after a member of the National Commission for Women, a statutory body under the government of India, said that the incident would not have happened had the woman not gone out alone after sundown. The member was set to the district to visit the kin of the deceased.
The deceased worker was a part of the government of India’s women frontline workers who provide healthcare services to women and children. The woman had been visiting the temple for many years, and the priest was known to carry out small rituals.
After the post-mortem report showed the severity of injuries in the woman’s private areas, a police complaint was filed under various sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to gang rape and murder. While the police arrested the aides, the priest is still on the run.
Along with the hunt for the perpetrator, the authorities have also suspended the station house officer (SHO) of the village police station for “insensitivity” and “delaying the due process”. “We approached the police as we felt somebody had raped her but the police didn’t help,” the victim’s brother said. Villagers told the media that the SHO didn’t believe the priest’s involvement until the postmortem report came out. They added that the cops took over 18 hours to take the body to the mortuary.
Yashpal Singh, the Chief Medical Officer of the hospital of the Badaun district, where Ughaiti is located, told The Hindu that prima facie, it looked like rape. “There were injuries on the private parts. Her ribs were broken and there was a fracture in one leg,” he said, adding that the injuries suggested that she was dragged. “There was excessive bleeding and death was because of shock. The viscera has been preserved and the sample has been sent to the forensic lab.”
In the police report, the woman’s husband alleged that he requested the priest to take her to the hospital when he realised she was still alive. But the priest and his aides refused and ran away.
UP records rape almost every week. On Thursday, Jan. 7, another rape case emerged from the state’s Moradabad district, where the survivor was thrown off a terrace after being assaulted. Last week, a family in Chitrakoot district alleged rape after they found the deceased body of their kin in a field.
Last year, a gang rape and murder of a teenager in Hathras district triggered outrage across the world.
UP’s Badaun district itself has seen brutal rape cases that made international headlines. In 2014, gang rape and murder of two teenage girls was reported in Badaun, which triggered an extensive investigation and controversial cover-up of the crime as a suicide. It had led to nationwide protests.
India also has a troubling history of self-styled godmen and priests being accused of rape. In Nov. 2020, a self-styled godman, Prashant Upadhyay, was accused of raping a minor. In May last year, two priests were arrested for holding two women captive in the temple where they practiced, and raping them repeatedly.
It’s not just the lesser-known ones. Famous godmen, who have followers across the world, have also been accused and arrested in cases of rape and abuse of women and children over the years.
For now, the case has triggered a probe by various state and national agencies. A reward of INR 50,000 ($682) has been announced to nab the priest.
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