The Kerala Lalithakala Akademi on Monday rejected the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Front government’s order to review its decision about a cartoon of rape-accused bishop Franco Mulakkal, PTI reported. The cartoon, which depicts the bishop as a rooster, was conferred the best cartoon award last week.

The organisation’s chairman, Nemam Pushparaj, said the jury’s decision on the matter was final and they will not change it now. “We have unanimously decided not to intervene in the decision of the expert jury which had selected the cartoon for the award,” Pushparaj said.

The cartoon, titled “Viswasam Rakshathi” (protection of faith), by artist KK Subhash, had appeared in a Malayalam magazine last year, after Mulakkal was accused of rape. The cartoon, apart from depicting Mulakkal as a rooster, has a pair of pink coloured lingerie in the crosier, carried by a bishop as a symbol of the pastoral office. Meanwhile, a group of nuns is shown fleeing the place. The bishop is shown dancing on a Kerala police cap, suggesting the indulgence of the state’s law enforcement agencies.

The cartoon triggered a row, with several people claiming that it was vulgar and criticised the Christian community.

“What had been depicted in the cartoon was the symbol of power and not any Christian symbol,” Pushparaj said. “When the staff is carried by a person, whom we can describe even as an anti-social, it is just a symbol of power.. there is no need to attach any holiness to it.”

“It is not the akademi that chose the winners. There were two rounds of verification of the works received for the award and as the akademi primarily stands for freedom of expression, we summoned urgent meetings on Monday and found nothing wrong with the cartoon concerned,” Pushparaj said, according to Deccan Chronicle.

He added: “Last time, the award was given to a cartoon criticising Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. We had never attempted to change that decision also.”

AK Balan, minister for law, culture and cinema, last week told the state Assembly that the government felt that the cartoon had “hurt” the sentiments of the Christian community. The Catholic Church had also demanded an apology from officials at the Akademi. The church had also wondered whether the Left Democratic Front government was targetting Christians after concluding that the Christian community did not vote for it during the Lok Sabha elections. The Left Democratic Front won just one out of the 20 seats in the state.

The Mulakkal case

In June 2018, the police filed a case against Mulakkal after a nun from the Missionaries of Jesus congregation accused him of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 in Kottayam. The congregation is based in Punjab’s Jalandhar district but it runs two convents in Kerala’s Kottayam and Kannur districts. The alleged abuse took place in Kottayam.

Mulakkal has repeatedly denied the charges and accused the nun of exacting revenge on him for ordering an inquiry into a complaint against her. He has filed a complaint against the complainant and five other nuns, accusing them of framing him. Last month, a court in Kerala handed over the chargesheet to Mulakkal, and also agreed to extend his bail.

The Kerala Police had filed the chargesheet against Mulakkal on April 9, seven months after his arrest. The charges against the bishop include illegal confinement, rape, unnatural sex, detention of woman, and repeated sexual abuse of the complainant. The police had also submitted a 1,400-page supplementary document containing confidential statements.