At the base of Taktshang monastery in Tsento, Paro is a village located amid paddy fields and apple orchards. The village is lush green and serene.

A recent rape case of a speech-impaired minor has, however, disturbed the tranquillity of the village. Residents are embroiled in suspicions and accusations, arguing their points to justify the victim’s family and an alleged perpetrator’s stand.

The victim is an 11-year-old speech-impaired girl. She lives with her mother, stepfather and two sisters in a rented cottage. Forensic officials have confirmed she was sexually assaulted.

The stepfather and her 16-year-old elder sister, who is a class 10 student, are under detention since July 19.

The victim’s mother, a 33-year-old woman from Khomshar in Zhemgang said the incident took place on July 14, when her daughter, who is usually kept locked inside the house, walked out after latching the door.

“Her elder sister gave her a bath and when I was breastfeeding my little girl, she went outside,” she said. “I went looking for her after putting my baby to sleep and saw her walking along the road on the other side.”

The mother said she could not find her daughter when she reached the other side of the river although she went looking for her. “I then returned home to call my husband that the daughter is missing.”

She said after making a call to her husband, who left for work that day to Pangbisa, she went looking for her daughter again and saw her near the roadside in tears with an edible in hand. “When I asked her what happened, she said she has been raped by a meme (an old man).”

She claimed that she then went to ask the 68-year-old shopkeeper if he gave anything to her daughter. “But he immediately charged me of accusing him of rape. He and his son followed me to my home and even dragged me out of the house.”

She said her daughter is raped and she has been assaulted. “But the police arrested my husband, who was not even here when the incident happened and my daughter, who doesn’t know anything.”

She said she is also worried if her daughter is impregnated. “I am a housewife, who has to look after her and who will look after her child.”

The woman’s in-laws, who came from Thimphu, said they were not even allowed to meet the husband. “We want to know the grounds of their arrest,” the brother-in-law said.

In the accused’s shop, which is located about 600ms away from the village, the man and his wife claim the mother wants to extort money from them.

The 68-year-old man said when the woman came, asking if he gave her daughter the edible and said he raped her, he couldn’t believe it. “She gave many inconsistent accusations, changing it every time I asked a question.”

He said the mother initially accused him of giving her child the edible but we found out that she bought it from a shop nearby. “She then said she saw me holding her child by the hand and when I questioned her why she didn’t ask me then, she had no answer.”

He also said another man in the village, who he spent the afternoon chatting with, saw the woman looking for her child. “But she says she never saw him.”

The man said he was not angry that the woman accused him of rape, as a mother could have doubted any man but he was angry because she claimed she saw him holding her child. “I don’t understand how she could conclude I am the only old man in the locality who could have raped her daughter. It could be anyone here.”

He also agreed that he dragged her. “I wanted her to come and see the CCTV footage of our neighborhood if her child ever entered my shop.”

Police have sent both the man and the stepfather’s blood samples for DNA. “I will not be able to accept it even if the DNA comes positive. I am a diabetic patient under medication for the last 15 years.”

Meanwhile, Paro police have maintained that they have strong grounds for arresting the stepfather and the victim’s sister.

“The case is sensitive, as the victim is a minor, who is also speech impaired. We cannot divulge any information for the interest of the investigation,” an official said. “But the stepfather and sister’s arrest is lawful. We have produced them before the court and sought an arrest warrant.”

The official also explained that they are doing their best and a team of officials is investigating the case. “We are not just leaving it to one official.”

Tashi Dema | Paro