Burari rape horror puts spotlight on ‘church’

Aug 22, 2023 04:51 AM IST

Premoday Khakha, 51, a Delhi govt official, and his wife Seema Rani, 50, were arrested on Monday

Allegations that a senior Delhi government officer raped a minor girl several times over three months has brought a cloistered neighbourhood church in north Delhi’s Burari into the spotlight, after it emerged that the survivor’s and suspects’ families shared ties that originated in a small prayer house decades ago.

Police with the arrested Delhi government official and his wife on Monday. (ANI) PREMIUM
Police with the arrested Delhi government official and his wife on Monday. (ANI)

Premoday Khakha, 51, who served as deputy director in Delhi’s women and child department (WCD), and his wife 50-year-old Seema Rani were arrested on Monday, after a 17-year-old girl who lived in their Burari residence between October 2020 and April 2021 alleged that the man raped her multiple times.

Also read: Burari minor rape: Delhi CM Kejriwal orders WCD officer’s suspension

Khakha, whom the girl referred to as “mama”, brought the minor in after her father’s death in October 2020.

Her mother, who had known the family for years, believed her daughter would get better in Khakha’s care, and that spending time in their home would help her overcome the bereavement.

The trust emerged from a string of ties they shared.

Their bond went back to 1998, when the two families first met during Sunday prayers at Amazing Grace Church in Shahdara in east Delhi. But their time in that two-storey church overlapped because of a common heritage — both families are originally from Ranchi in Jharkhand, where they followed the Lutheran Church.

When they moved to Delhi, their searches for a Lutheran Church led them to Amazing Grace Church, founded in 1992 by another Ranchi resident, Ajit Kumar Horo, at his residence in Bihari Colony in Shahdara.

He set the church up after having himself given up on his quest for a Lutheran prayer hall in the Capital.

Now more than 30 years old, the close-knit church still has just 30 families as members, though it’s changed locations twice, moving from Shahdara to Mukherjee Nagar in 2002 and then Burari in 2015.

Since then, it has operated from a two-storey building in Himgiri Enclave residential colony, said Pramod Kumar, the church caretaker.

Until Monday, when Khakha was suspended from his position in the government and was later arrested along with his wife, the members of the church, including its 64-year-old founder and pastor Horo, were unaware of the trauma that the minor girl was put through.

Members of the church, who asked not be identified, said that relations between the two families, who had known each other for nearly 25 years, had soured.

They said that the girl and her mother had not visited the church for nearly a month, while Khakha and his family members skipped prayers over the last two Sundays.

When HT visited the church on Monday afternoon, a woman who works in the institution said she was aware that the girl was admitted to a city hospital around a fortnight ago.

However, the woman, who asked not to be named, said she did not know the teenager had been raped.

“I still can’t believe Khakha sexually assaulted the girl. I have known the families for over 20 years. They were very close and like a family. Khakha is a key member of the church. He was also the former secretary of the church committee. I remember him to be a nice and helping man,” the woman said.

HT spoke to Kumar over the phone, who said that no member of the church was aware of the case. He, however, added that he had noticed that the two families were not speaking to each other for the last few weeks.

“The girl was not regular at church for a while either,” added Kumar.

Horo told HT that set the church up with the hope of helping Christians from his hometown get educated. His church, he said, believed in free worship, providing a place for prayer meets and social work.

“Nearly 30 families are associated with the church. We only have one church in Burari and no other branches anywhere in the country,” said Horo.

Horo, a retired official with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), said the church, or its members were not involved in any conversions or preaching outside.

Apart from him, at least three other members lead the Sunday prayers as pastors.

The caretaker of the church, however, added that the entire building is covered by 16 CCTV cameras, and it was not possible for any member to commit any such crime at the religious place.

“We have video footage of the past few days. If required, we will give the footage to the police,” added Kumar.

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    Karn Pratap Singh has been writing on crime, policing, and issues of safety in Delhi for almost a decade. He covers high-intensity spot news, including terror strikes, serial blasts and security threats in the national capital.

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