By Prarthana Mitra
Amidst protests, outrageous comments and investigation proceeding at snail’s pace, the rape charges brought against Roman Catholic bishop Franco Mulakkal have rankled religious sentiments in Kerala. But more significantly, it marks the latest chapter in the series of exploitative crimes and abuse of power in the highest religious orders of the country.
In July, a court near Kottayam recorded the statement of a nun who charged bishop Franco Mulakkal with rape and unnatural sex on 13 occasions between 2014 and 2016. She had reportedly filed a police complaint in June, under duress and intimidation from the church authorities, after they refused to take action against Franco.
Protest against police and church inaction
Last week, several nuns belonging to various Catholic reformation organisations staged a protest against the police authorities for sabotaging and impeding the investigation, which hasn’t yet conducted a potency test or official interrogation of the accused, reportedly transferring the case to the Crime Branch, instead. DGP Loknath Behera later clarified that there would be no handover, directing Ernakulam Range inspector general, Vijay Sakhare to complete the investigation as quickly and impartially as possible.
The police, in a statement based on initial investigation and available evidence, had said it was found that the Bishop was guilty of the charges levied against him. Demanding Mulakkal’s arrest, one of the nuns spoke to FirstPost, displeased at the state’s laxity and questioning why he hadn’t been arrested despite sufficient evidence yet.
The inevitable stench of rape apologia
Not everyone is pleased with the protest. The Missionaries of Jesus congregation on Monday condemned the protesting nuns, calling their allegations “baseless” and saying they “cannot crucify an innocent”. Independent MLA PC George outrageously called the complainant a prostitute at a press conference on Saturday, demanding an explanation why she had not filed a complaint during the initial stages of misdemeanour.
The protesting nuns and the survivor’s family have vowed to initiate legal action against him for maligning the complainant. Former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan also came out in support of the nun, urging the government to take steps to prevent such crimes from recurring.
The abuse of power in organised religion is showing
It is also telling, and perhaps the ugliest manifestation of exploitative power politics in a country where religion is a battleground. Organised religion has been known to breed blind fanaticism for centuries, often mistaken for faith in godmen and women who wield unseemly influence over their congregation and the mass. Case in point, the Missionaries of Charity, which was recently accused of trafficking new-born infants from a charitable facility for unwed mothers in Ranchi. Three workers including a nun were arrested in July, for allegedly selling babies to childless couples for a sum of Rs.50,000, which activists claim to be a part of a larger racket.
In the neighbouring state, unimaginable reports of child sexual abuse emerged from the Bodh Gaya monastery. 15 boys from Assam’s Chakma community, aged between 8-16, were sexually abused by a monk named Bhante Sanghpriye Sujoy for 18 months and not allowed to contact their parents. With the help of local media and police, he was arrested this month under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
One cannot, of course, forget about Indian spiritual guru Asaram Bapu, who was handed a life sentence earlier this year, for raping a sixteen-year-old disciple from Uttar Pradesh, on her visit to one of his ashrams in Rajasthan. For a swift delivery of justice to the Kerala victim, the investigation needs to happen quickly. Amidst growing support for the plaintiff from all over the country, the protests against abuse of power continue undaunted until the government ensures justice.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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