On Thursday, the Catholic Church ordered four of the five nuns who participated in protests against rape-accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal to leave their convent in Kottayam, Kerala.
In September, the five nuns had staged a protest in Kochi demanding the arrest of Mulakkal, who is accused of raping a nun in Kottayam 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The nuns allege that the transfer orders are meant to weaken the case and isolate the victim from her support system.
The episode raises troubling questions. Though a complaint against Mulakkal was filed in June 2018, the police failed to arrest him until public pressure engendered by the protesting nuns forced the authorities to act. On its part, the church too moved only when protests caught the public eye. It divested Mulakkal of his administrative responsibilities only three months after the complaint was filed. This, is in spite of the complainant’s claim that she had informed the church before approaching the authorities.
There have been attempts to browbeat the victim as well. A case was filed against her by Mulakkal under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code – a law that penalises the outraging of religious sentiment. In another instance, a priest was caught allegedly attempting to threaten and bribe the complainant. A photo of the complainant was released to the press by the religious congregation that Mulakkal is a part of – a crime under Indian law.
Most troubling is the power that the church seems to wield over the Kerala administration. Three months after Mulakkal was arrested, the Kerala police are yet to even file a chargesheet. Rather than act to facilitate justice, the Catholic Church is using its power in Kerala to bully the complainant and influence the state’s administrative machinery.
The law should function without fear or favour. In this case, this does not seem to be happening.