Thiruvananthapuram: It’s not every day that you see nuns protesting on the street against a powerful Church leader. What Kochi woke up to on Saturday morning was the surprising sight of nuns and priests coming out on the street with placards against Bishop of Jalandhar, Franco Mulakkal, who has been accused of raping a holy sister. In fact, in Kerala, where any voice of dissent within the ranks of the clergy is quickly silenced, it is unprecedented.
The protest was led by the nuns of the convent at Kuravilangad where the victim is currently lodged. “We are not backing out from this complaint, and we stand with our sister who has been wronged,” said a nun, who was protesting outside the Kerala High Court.
On Wednesday, two more nuns and an ex-nun had come out openly against the Bishop alleging sexual abuse. The ex-nun alleged she was forced to leave the Church after the Bishop touched her inappropriately. “We will not end our protest until the bishop is arrested,” say office bearers of the Kerala Church Reformation Movement, which has organised the protest in Kochi.
It has been alleged that the state government is deliberately going slow in the case considering it does not want to antagonise the all-powerful Catholic Church. It has now been a week since the probe team in the case submitted to the DGP that action against the bishop is now inevitable. Yet, the role of the police itself is under a big cloud in this saga.
In the beginning, the police continued to claim they had received a complaint from the Bishop first, alleging that the nun was framing him for transferring her. It was a week before the police registered a case of rape after the nun submitted her complaint. The alleged assaults took place on 13 different occasions between 2014-2016.
Since the complaint was filed, the complainant has been questioned at least five times by the police. A cumulative 25 hours. The Bishop faced interrogation once, almost one month later, from a probe team which went all the way to Jalandhar. In fact, when that questioning was taking place, Bishop’s men assaulted media persons covering the story, including a News18 reporter.
On August 14, after a nine-hour interrogation, the Kerala police team returned from Jalandhar empty-handed. Riju Kanjukaran of the Kerala Catholic Church reformation movement (KCRM) says, “The fact that the police have been soft towards the Bishop is there for all the world to see. What was the need for a team to go to Jalandhar at all? What is stopping them from issuing an arrest warrant?”
Meanwhile, allegations came to the fore that Franco Mulakkal was trying to buy the silence of the nun. Her brother alleged that persons close to the Bishop had approached the family promising land and money in return for dropping the case.
As Kerala’s focus shifted to the flood crisis, the unnamed nun continued to fight a lonely battle. In fact, last week she approached the police again and alleged that close associates of the Bishop had hired an Assam-native to spy on her at the convent and jeopardise her life by sabotaging her scooter.
Her widowed sister was threatened at their home in Angamaly. No action was taken yet again. Despite Ernakulam IG Vijay Sakhare recommending that the Bishop be summoned for questioning again, the ball still seems to be in the court of state DGP Loknath Behera.
Pressure has been mounting on the church, police and state government to take tough action. Former Left MP and political analyst Sebastian Paul told News18, “I think its high time we stopped giving him the consideration that he is a Bishop. As a citizen, he has to now face the law. Let the court decide whether he is innocent or not.”