Christian woman's death in India made to look like suicide was rape and murder by poisoning, family says

Catholic devotees wear face mask attend the Holy Mass at the Saint Joseph's Church on the first day after the reopening of religious services after the government eased restrictions imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Hyderabad on June 8, 2020. | NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images

A Christian woman murdered in India’s Punjab state was likely raped and injected with poison to make her death appear like a suicide, her family has said. 

In August, the body of 20-year-old Jyoti William, who worked as a nursing assistant in a private hospital in Amritsar town, was found in her home with injury marks on her neck and feet, the India Tribune reported

Police initially suspected it was a case of suicide after they found an empty bottle and a syringe near her bed. But they later registered her case as death by negligence against the owner of the house and two others.

In a statement to UCA News, William’s elder sister, Venus William, claimed her sister was raped and then injected with poison to kill her and make it look like a suicide. Her sister "had no reason to commit suicide. It was a case of rape and murder," she said.

"Bloodstains were found on her leg, and one of her shoes was filled up with blood. There were injury marks on her left eye and neck, and swelling in other parts of the body,” Venus William added. 

"Her private parts were also not properly covered, indicating that she was raped and killed. Her right hand had some cotton as if someone kept it there to prove that she had committed suicide by injecting poison," Venus said.

"If she had injected poison and killed herself, how could there be so much blood and injuries? Why should clothes be removed from her private parts?" she asked.

The family and some Christian groups have petitioned the Punjab High Court to exhume William’s body for a second post-mortem examination.

"We believe a fresh post-mortem will be able to establish our charge," said Minakshi Singh, general secretary of Unity in Christ, a forum of Protestant churches based in New Delhi.

A three-member fact-finding team met with William's family, with one team member telling UCA News they have “sufficient grounds to prove that she was raped and murdered."

The team member said the preliminary autopsy report "has given enough indication that she had not committed suicide. But the police were not ready to acknowledge it.”

Following a statement by the victim’s family in August, the police booked four people of interest, including Sanjay Sharma, the manager of the hospital, and his wife, Kirti Sharma, Gurpreet Singh, and Munish Kumar, all of whom are employees of the hospital where William was employed. All four were later released.

A three-member police special investigation team is now investigating the case following complaints that police covered up the evidence. 

Punjab is among the Indian states where attacks on Christians and their places of worship continue to be reported in greater number and severity. Police, however, remain largely unresponsive to the plight of religious minorities. 

In October, a Christian man in Punjab was shot dead and three others wounded when assailants entered a Pentecostal church and opened fire.

In late July, the body of Pastor Balvinder Bagicha Bhatti was found on the side of the road in Punjab. Local police, despite evidence of foul play, registered the case as an accidental death.

India is ranked No. 10 on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian. According to the CIA World Fact Book, about 80% of India's population is Hindu.

Thomas Schirrmacher, the newly-appointed head of The World Evangelical Alliance, which represents over 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide, told The Christian Post that India’s religious minorities have faced increasing persecution since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party rose to power in 2014.

“Elections are won by the Prime Minister with this topic: ‘India is for the Hindus,’ and suddenly Muslims and Christians find themselves in a country that clearly wants to get rid of them,” he said. “They promote the idea that an Indian by nature is a Hindu. So if he is not a Hindu, he has been stolen, and must be re-converted.”

“This idea was not on the market 10 years ago, and has led to an increase in discrimination and killings of Indian Christians and other minorities,” he said, adding that Christians in Western countries must “speak up” for those persecuted for their faith.

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