The National Commission for Women on Wednesday wrote to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, asking him to take prompt action to protect two nuns who are witnesses in a rape case against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, PTI reported. The nuns have been issued transfer orders.

Last month, the Catholic Church had ordered five nuns – Alphy Pallasseril, Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil, Josephine Villoonnickal, Ancitta Urumbil and Neena Rose Edathil – to leave the Kuravilangad convent and return to the convents that had been assigned to them earlier.

Four of them wrote to Vijayan, seeking his help. They claimed that the orders were part of an attempt to “sabotage the case” and said the church’s move was a form of mental harassment.

NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma told Vijayan that two of the nuns – Rose Edathil and Pallasserial – had told the commission that an attempt was being made to split them up in order to weaken the case, ANI reported. The nuns said the transfer orders were issued to “pressurise and threaten” them. The complainants also said there may be danger to their lives if they were transferred to distant locations.

Sharma asked Vijayan to personally intervene to ensure the safety of the two nuns, the survivor in the rape case and other nuns.

The case

The police filed charges against Mulakkal in June after a nun accused him of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 at a convent in Kottayam. He was arrested on September 21 after three days of questioning. On October 15, the Kerala High Court granted him conditional bail, and he was released the following day. Mulakkal, who returned to Jalandhar on October 17, has denied all charges.

An internal investigation by the Missionaries of Jesus in September found Mulakkal to be innocent. The organisation has also attempted to malign the complainant repeatedly, once alleging that she was in a relationship with a taxi driver.