Priest gets 20 years, misleading reports on Muzaffarpur, stay of execution

The 18 February edition of Note This — our round-up of media reports and opinions on sexual assault

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was accused of playing a “role” in the Muzaffarpur shelter home sex abuse case in a court petition by one of the arrested suspects. Photo: BMN Network/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

The sentencing of a Catholic priest in Kerala to 20 years in prison for the rape of a minor has been covered across the national media. The church in India has been in the media focus ever since former bishop Franco Mulakkal was accused of raping a Kerala nun multiple times between 2014 and 2016.

Other stories to be reported widely over the past week include the naming of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar by an accused in the Muzaffarpur shelter home case —a development that led to some inaccurate reporting by the media, and the grant of a stay of execution by the Supreme Court to the convicted rapist of a 4-year-old girl.

Editor’s pick

Media reportage on sexual assault suffers from an abundance of sensationalism and a paucity of technical knowledge, believes forensics expert Dr Jagadeesh Narayana Reddy. In an interview with NewsTracker’s Spurthi Venkatesh, Dr Reddy — who was part of two National Committees that formed guidelines for the medico-legal care of sexual assault survivors — spoke at length about the problem of sexual violence in India and how the media can improve its coverage of such cases.

Across India: news since Thursday

Robin Vadakkumchery (his name has been spelled alternately as “Vadkumcherry” and “Vadakkumcheril”), a 51-year-old Catholic priest from Kerala, has been found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl and sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment. The court, however, acquitted six others, including a priest and four nuns, who were accused of trying to cover up the crime. The court has also “ordered criminal proceedings” against the victim’s parents for turning hostile. The rape came to light last year after the victim gave birth to a baby boy. Her father was initially implicated in her rape but a tip directed the police to the priest, who was arrested while he was trying to flee to Canada.

According to a report in The News Minute, which interviewed the special prosecutor in the case, the church “silently influenced the trial”, with many witnesses refusing to speak up.

The Kerala church, meanwhile, continues to penalise the nuns who have spoken out against rape-accused priest Franco Mulakkal. Last week, a second warning letter was sent to nun Lucy Kalapura asking her to change her “mind and attitude” to avoid being dismissed from her congregation.

Case updates

(Misleading) reports that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has ordered a probe against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the Muzaffarpur shelter home sex abuse case — in which dozens of minor girls were allegedly systematically sexually assaulted by several people— have been refuted by members of Kumar’s party, the JD(U). The controversy arose when a key suspect in the case, Ashwini Kumar, filed a petition in which he said that if the CBI investigated the Chief Minister and other officials, “their role can also be exposed”. This, however, does not mean that the CBI has been directed to probe the CM (as some headlines said), but that the petition will be forwarded to the investigating agency “for consideration”.

Six suspects have been arrested in the Ludhiana gang-rape case, in which as many as 10 men dragged a woman out of a car and assaulted her on February 9. The case made national headlines last week after it sparked a debate in the Punjab Assembly about the law and order situation in the state. A similar case that took place in Jharkhand last week, however, received minimal press attention and no updates have been published.

Death penalty

The Supreme Court has stayed the execution of Mahendra Singh Gond, who had been issued a “death warrant” for March 2 by a lower court for the rape of a 4-year-old girl.

In Tamil Nadu, the Chengalpattu Mahila Court has sentenced a 24-year-old man to death for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl.

The parents of ‘Nirbhaya’ (the media monicker for the 201 Delhi gang-rape victim) have approached a court in Delhi to “fast-track” the executions of the four convicts, all of whom have been awarded the death penalty.

An editorial in Scroll has lauded the media for several instances of “calling out the bluff of the government”, including in the case of Prime Minister Modi’s sweeping statements about the frequency and efficacy of the death penalty for rape. The piece notes, “It is… the job of the media to fact check and point out the misinformation, and sometimes lies, put out by the people in power”.

Rape culture

A number of cases this week have involved men resorting to rape and even murder after they were “spurned” by women.

In Tiruvallur, Tamil Nadu, five men were arrested for the gang-rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. According to the Hindu, the victim was confined for five days and repeatedly assaulted by the men. The prime suspect, a relative of the victim, reportedly decided to commit the crime (and to “sell” her to the other suspects) after she “spurned his proposal for marriage”.

In Dwarka, New Delhi, a 17-year-old girl has told the police that she was repeatedly raped by her neighbour. According to the police, the man was “pursuing” the woman but after she turned him down, he threatened and blackmailed her into submission. He also reportedly “forcibly” married her.

Assault of minors

In Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, a 20-year-old man has been arrested for the rape of an 18-month-old girl. He reportedly took the toddler from her parents, saying he would play with her.

A 31-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the murder and mutilation of a 4-year-old girl in Mumbai. The police have said that the body shows signs of sexual assault. The suspect reportedly worked with the victim’s father.

From the international press: false rape cases in India

In an article on false rape claims in India, Amrit Dhillon in the Guardian writes, “Something strange is going on in India. Women are becoming more educated and confident. Pre-marital sex is on the rise… But at the same time, so are the number of women alleging rape on false promise of marriage”. The story attempts to identify the cultural factors and legal shortcomings behind “false allegations” of sexual assault.

Read more

This roundup is curated from the RSS feeds of more than 30 English news publications from across India.

See a fuller list of rape and sexual violence cases reported today, and earlier this week.

Use our case filter to read reports on specific cases: #MeToo, #KeralaPriest, #RapeOfMinors, #Muzaffarapur, #PoliticsOfRape (use the dropdown menu in column A).

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