Gujarat: Priest gets 20 years in jail for raping minor in name of ritual

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A DESIGNATED POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) court in Khambhalia town of Devbhumi Dwarka convicted a bhuva (priest of a religious place or community) of raping a 13-year-old girl in 2019 in the name of ridding her of evil spirit and sentenced him to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment on Tuesday.

The court also imposed Rs 10,000 fine on the 22-year-old convict, who identified himself as bhuva of Mamadev temple on his farm in Devbhumi Dwarka, and ordered the state government to pay the victim Rs 5 lakh compensation.

“Rape remains a scar in the mind of the victim for entire life. A victim recovers from physical injuries (of rape) but mental injuries persist for a very long time and when a girl is subjected to such rape while she is young, its scars are for lifetime. In such circumstances, no soft corner can be shown to the accused,” the court observed in its judgment.

According to the prosecution’s case, the 13-year-old girl, a resident of Devbhumi Dwarka, along with her parents and paternal uncle had gone to seek help of the bhuva as the uncle used to remain sick, at 10 pm on March 15, 2019. The girl, who was a Class VIII student, also had complained of stomach ache.
The man told the girl’s parents that an evil spirit had entered her body and that she would have to be taken to the temple of Mamadev.

While the parents and the uncle set out on foot for the temple, the convict asked the girl to ride the pillion of his bike and took her to the temple. Midway, the bhuva asked the girl’s parents and uncle to stop, saying Mamadev was not granting him permission for them to visit the temple at that time. Accordingly, while her family members stopped midway, the bhuva took the girl to the temple.

According to the prosecution’s case, the bhuva asked the girl to remove her clothes to perform rituals. The girl refused but the bhuva forced her to do it and also asked her that she will have to have sex with his relative, who was present at the temple. The priest’s relative touched her with an intent to assault her sexually. After the girl refused, he left the place but the bhuva took the girl behind the temple and forced himself on her, saying it was part of a ritual to drive away evil spirit. After raping her, the bhuva threatened to kill the girl if she told anyone about the assault.

Later the girl narrated the incident to her mother, who, in turn, filed a police complaint. The priest and his relative were booked under IPC sections 376 and POCSO Act’s sections 3(A), 4, 10, 12 and 17 and arrested. The priest was in judicial custody since while his relative was granted bail later on.

“With the help of the strong scientific evidence, we could prove our case against the bhuva beyond reasonable doubt. However, the victim couldn’t identify his relative in the court and therefore, the court gave him the benefit of doubt and acquitted him,” Lakhabhai Chavda, district government pleader of Devbhumi Dwarka told The Indian Express on Wednesday, adding, “The victim and her family members had met the priest earlier also to seek his help and therefore the victim was able to identify the priest.

However, she couldn’t identify the priest’s relative as it was dark when she was assaulted.”

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