Written by Aenon Shalom
By Aenon Shalom
VENNABARI, Bangladesh, January 20 (Compass Direct News) - The pastor of a Baptist church in this village about a 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Dhaka said that earlier this month local Muslims tied him and his wife up, robbed his living quarters on the church property and gang-raped his wife.
The Rev. Shankar Hazra, 55, of Chaksing Baptist church in Gopalganj district, said that before leaving, the assailants desecrated the church building.
The night of the attack, the pastor said, he and his wife, 45, went out to a toilet outside their home at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 6.
"Suddenly a man loomed up from the darkness and thrust the snout of a homemade rifle at my chest and told me to keep mum, otherwise both of us would be killed," Rev. Hazra told Compass. "Around seven to eight people swooped on us and tied me and my wife. They blindfolded my wife and took her inside the house."
While Rev. Hazra was tied to a pillar on the porch of his house of corrugated tin and wood, the assailants took the keys of chests and trunks and looted valuables: gold and silver jewelry worth US$500, cash totaling US$300, a mobile phone, television, CD players, all their clothes except his cassock, and utensils.
"They even looted my daughters' dresses," Rev. Hazra told Compass. "After looting everything, they gang-raped my wife."
The assailants also asked about the whereabouts of his two grown daughters, who had left the previous day after spending the Christmas and New Year holidays with their parents. Their daughters, ages 22 and 20, had returned to their studies in separate districts.
"If my daughters had been present in the house at that night, they would have been victims as their mother was," Rev. Hazra said.
After the assailants left, Rev. Hazra managed to untie himself and found his wife lying unconscious on the bed, he said.
"My neighbors came and rushed her to a nearby hospital, and that hospital referred my wife to another big hospital in Gopalganj district because her condition was very serious," he said.
The assailants also broke the door of the church building and urinated and defecated there, Rev. Hazra added.
Rev. Hazra and his wife said all of the assailants were Muslims, but that villagers tried to implicate non-Muslims and portray the attack as resulting from internal conflicts among Christians.
Police, influential villagers and local Muslim-owned media are trying to conceal likely anti-Christian motives for the crime, he said, by falsely accusing two Christians and a Hindu of participating - and labeling a local Baptist pastor as the "mastermind" of the attack. Police wrote the First Information Report (FIR) implicating the Christians and Hindu based on lies from villagers, and Rev. Hazra signed it without reading it due to his shaken state, he said.
Rev. Hazra's wife, Depali Hazra, later filed an affidavit contesting the FIR in which the two Christians and one Hindu, along with a known criminal who is Muslim, were accused of the gang rape and theft. The Christians and Hindu were not involved in the rape and robbery, she reported in the affidavit.
"I was seriously ill after [the] gang rape, and my husband's mind was unhinged at that time," she reported. "Only [the] Muslim man Ilias Mridha and his yes-men did it. When I recuperated a little bit from illness, I came to know about the names of the Christians and Hindu in the case. Spontaneously and knowledgably I did this affidavit to get rid of those Christian and Hindu names from the case copy."
Local police inspector Liakat Ali confirmed to Compass that non-Muslims had been implicated in the rape and theft charges filed at the police station. Other statements in the FIR - such as the number of assailants, four, rather than the seven or eight cited by the pastor - are at odds with Rev. Hazra's account, further indicating that police relied on second-hand information from villagers rather than the experience related by the victims.
"We have arrested three people so far in connection with gang rape and looting out of four people mentioned in the FIR by Hazra," said Ali. "Among those mentioned, two people are Christians, one Hindu and one Muslim. According to the case information, the mastermind of the incident is Monotosh Banarjy, a pastor of a Baptist church, who might not have been present at that time."
There is no criminal record against the Christian arrested, Sushil Baroi, a Catholic, he said.
"But the arrested Muslim man, Ilias Mridha, is a criminal who had been arrested several times before," said Ali.
Local Christians said Mridha, 38, who has been jailed several times, commits crimes under the direction of local influential persons.
Father Jacob Gobbi, head priest at Baniarchar Catholic Church, told Compass that Baroi was not involved in the gang rape and robbery.
"He is innocent, and we want that he should be released as soon as possible," Fr. Gobbi said.
Rev. Hazra said he and his wife are living temporarily with her relatives as protection from further attacks at their church quarters.
*** Photos of The Rev. Shankar Hazra and his wife are available electronically. Contact Compass Direct News for pricing and transmittal.
Copyright 2009 Compass Direct News
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