The rape of a nun from Kerala for over two years has sent ripples across the Catholic community and the society at large. The details of the incident establish that Bishop Franco Mulakkal from Jalandhar raped a 44 year old nun several times between 2014 and 2016, a complaint was lodged over 78 days ago but the police have done next to nothing to bring justice to the victim. Over the last 4 days, 5 nuns and several citizens have been sitting near the Kerala High Court in protest, demanding justice from the authorities. In response to the protests and widespread media attention, the high court has instructed the police to present a status on the progress of their investigation. The victim herself wrote a letter to the Vatican addressing the allegations and the way she has been austracised by her local Catholic community after the incident.
Allegations against members of the Church are not a new development. Across the world, over years, accounts of sexual abuse and harassment have been brought to light, all at the hands of priests. The Church has found ways to silence the voices of many and, most times deny nearly all accusations. The treatment of rape victims in India is always a matter of concern. Victim blaming is rampant and is once again evident in this case. The nun has been held responsible for her rape; politicians in Kerala have resorted to name-calling and raising questions on the ‘purity’ of her character. The power and authority of the Church has delayed the investigations and the accused Bishop has denied the claims.
The delayed justice has raised several questions against the Church and the authorities. The Bishop, a man in power not being reprimanded for his actions, is a clear indication of the misogyny and patriarchy present in the society. The media has applauded the nun for coming forth with her story, at the cost of being shunned and vilified by her own community. Statements released by her show how anxious and afraid she was to take this decision of telling the world about the trauma she has been through. She was aware of the backlash she would face but she did it anyway. As a rape victim, instead of getting the intended support her name has been dragged in the mud.
The looming authority of the Church seems have to cast a shadow over the pace of the investigation. In times like these, when a crime has been committed the State needs to step up and ensure that justice is delivered on time. Religion has always been a polarising subject, and this specific case has made the issue all the more sensitive. Members of the Catholic community will be quick to defend the actions of a high-ranking individual. Many will assume the nun’s actions are a deliberate attack on the accused to defame him. The State needs to understand that the religious dimension to this case cannot take away from the fact that a woman has been raped and undergone unspeakable trauma.
Attitudes towards women in this country have always been derogatory; if a woman is raped, fingers are pointed at the victim instead of the rapist. This case is no different. The nun has been questioned 12 times by the authority so far, but the Bishop has been brought in for questioning only once. Even after other nuns came forth with similar accounts of abuse at the hands of the same Bishop, no severe action is being taken. The larger narrative that is being constructed here is that, a woman demanding justice for a crime against her needs to repeatedly prove herself to be true for actual justice to take place. It is not enough that a formal complaint has been made; she is on trial when she is a victim herself. The flaws in our society are glaringly evident when incidents like this are in the limelight. We, as a society frequently talk about women’s equality and empowerment but these words seem hollow when everyone is witness to a woman demanding justice but her pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears. The police and higher authorities need to work together and take swift action against the Bishop and arrest him for his crime.
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