Police yesterday arrested 10 people including a catholic priest, Father Bernard Tudu, for their involvement in the out-of-court settlement of rape of Serafina Mardi that led her to commit suicide at Godagari upazila here.
The other arrestees are indigenous community leaders Bishwanath Tudu, Sisti Tudu, Jotin Hendorm, Monir Murmu, Lobin Hendrom, Amin Murmu, Samuel Mardi and Poresh Murmu of Amtulipara village, and another Bishwanath Tudu of neighbouring Shimla village.
Of them, Bishwanath Tudu of Shimla presided over the settlement, said Zakirul Islam, officer-in-charge of Godagari Police Station.
Ataur Rahman, sub-inspector of Kakonhat investigation centre, filed a case with Godagari Police Station in this connection last night.
According to the case statement, the accused persons “provoked” Serafina Mardi, the 14-year-old indigenous girl, to commit suicide.
She died on Monday, two days after she had set herself on fire failing to stand the humiliation. Nine indigenous men raped her on April 4 last year.
Although Father Bernard was not present during the settlement, he handed over Tk 1.40 lakh to Serafina’s family in compensation as per the settlement, the case statement further said.
The nine culprits deposited the money to him following the settlement last year.
Meanwhile, Serafina’s family members yesterday alleged that she was forced to stay with the nuns, also knows as sisters, in their convent at Godagari following the settlement.
Her father Corneleus Mardi told this correspondent that she was kept at the sisters’ house for nearly three months before she fled to her home in October.
Sabina Mardi, her sister, said that Serafina repeatedly asked her father to take her home failing to adjust there. On several occasions, the family wanted to take her home but the priest did not allow, she alleged.
Asked, Father Bernard initially denied that she ever lived at the sisters’ house.
When told about her family member’s claim, he said: “I cannot exactly recall the time, but she had not been there for more than 15 days.”
He also rejected that Serafina fled the sisters’ convent. “She went home with her mother”.
According to him, she stayed with the sisters, as she felt insecure at home.
Sisters at the convent could not be reached for comment, as there was a day-long special prayer yesterday.
Following the gang rape, Serafina was admitted to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital. The rapists, however, allegedly forced her family to take her home.
She was then taken to a shelter home of a Rajshahi-based NGO, Association for Community Development (ACD).
In the face of pressure from community leaders, her family took her home on July 18.
After the arbitration, the culprits and the community leaders considered it “unsafe” for them to keep the girl at home where human rights organisations can reach her, said her father.
“Serafina was feeling good at the safe home. But once she was taken to the sisters’ house, she started complaining about her life there,” said Sabina, her sister.
After she fled the convent, four accused rapists were released from jail. Police had pressed charges against the nine on August 11 last year but the court acquitted them, as no prosecution witness appeared.
“She was deprived of justice both socially and morally.”
Talking to The Daily Star at the church yesterday, Father Bernard said Serafina took her life because her family rebuked her.
“The morning she set herself on fire, she wanted to visit a relative at Gardang Kamalapur village but she was denied. At this, she was mortified and gave up her life,” said the priest.
He claimed to have heard this from Supriti Tudu, a college student of the village.
Replying to a question, the Father said he never visited the victim’s family since the rape, although she was a member of the community under the church.