Source: The Daily Star
Family members of Serafina Mardi, the gang-rape victim who committed suicide after being forced into an out-of-court settlement with the rapists in February, are in fear of a backlash from their religious leaders.
Also the families of the rapists, yet to be detained, are mounting pressure on them to withdraw a case filed against the culprits, Serafina's family members and indigenous leaders said in a press conference at GDRC Auditorium here yesterday.
Raped on April 4 last year, indigenous girl Serafina, 14, daughter of Cornelius Mardi of Amtulipara in Godagari upazila, set herself afire on February 17.
As per the settlement, the community leaders offered her family Tk 1.40 lakh in compensation and decided to marry her off to one of the nine rapists.
As she succumbed to her injuries on February 20, police arrested 10 persons including catholic priest Father Bernard Tudu on charge of provoking the suicide through the settlement.
The arrested also include Bishwanath Tudu who had presided over the settlement.
Later, Serafina's mother Sushana Soren filed another case accusing the nine rapists.
“Villagers seldom talk with us,” Serafina's sister Sabina Mardi said, “as it is widely circulated that if they talk to us they will be declared social outcasts by religious leaders.”
Sushana alleged, “Nobody give us work; I have to go to other villages looking for work. The rapists' parents often threaten us with dire consequences for filing the case.”
In the conference, Jatiya Adibashi Parishad (JAP) President Anil Marandi and General Secretary Rabindranath Soren said the victim's family is unsafe.
An organisation called Uttorbanga Adibashi Forum has been formed only to save the accused, said the JAP leaders. It has held human chains and meetings demanding their release.
The forum's general secretary, Baghbat Tudu, a former catholic priest, is reportedly blamed for several misdeeds including rape.
Despite being a government officer, Benjamin Tudu, son of Biswanath Tudu, participated in a recent meeting with the catholic community leaders demanding release of the “saviours of the rapists”, they said.
Benjamin, research officer of Shilpakala Academy in Sirajganj, said he was looking into the matter as part of his job.
But asked if he was assigned to do research in Rajshahi, he said he came to the district on his own as his father was arrested.
He claimed the complainant was never forced. “My father got involved with the out-of-court settlement when both the complainant and the accused went to him for a solution.”
Baghbat said, “I am not involved with any programme for either releasing the accused or saving the rapists.”
Asked about his involvement with the forum, he said their banner was never used. “They [JAP leaders] say anything they want.”
Hingu Murmu, president of the forum, was not available for comments.