Even as Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was on Friday acquitted of raping a nun, celebrated his victory by holding a mass at a retreat centre and his followers distributed sweets in the court premises, the nuns who have been supporting the survivor said they will continue their fight.
Though they looked dejected by the verdict, the nuns said it is their duty to continue the fight till their sister gets justice. “We are not fighting just for our sister nun but for the dignity of all women,'' said Sister Anupama who had been one of the most vocal people in the protest against Mulakkal. She admitted that they never expected this verdict. “It is unbelievable. The verdict proves that money and power can get you anything,'' said Sr Anupama, looking visibly dejected.
She, along with five other nuns including the survivor and her sister, have been staying at a monastery in Kuravilangad leading a secluded life. “Other inmates had been treating us like outcasts as we decided to fight against the diktats of the power that be. But we will continue our fight,'' one of the six nuns told the WEEK.
Mulakkal, meanwhile, said that the verdict has proved that the justice of god has been enacted on earth too. “The verdict has proved that there is god. Those who respect the truth were with me,'' said Mulakkal. He went to his ancestral home in Thrissur and is expected to return to Jalandhar on Saturday. His lawyers said that they won the case as the court was convinced that the complainants had “ulterior motives”.
Mulakkal was arrested in September 2018 in connection with the complaint of a nun, who had alleged that Mulakkal had raped her 13 times at her Congregation’s mission house in Kerala’s Kottayam district, over a period of two years from May 5, 2014. Denying the rape allegations, the bishop claimed that the story was ‘fabricated’ in retaliation for taking action against her with regard to a complaint raised by a woman. He became the first Indian Catholic bishop to be arrested in a rape case and was lodged in judicial custody for 25 days. There were a slew of charges including illegal confinement, sexual harassment through abuse of power, unnatural sex, rape and outraging the modesty of a woman against him.
The prosecution has, however, decided to file an appeal in the higher court against the verdict of an additional sessions court acquitting the former bishop of Jalandhar of raping a nun. A direction in this regard has reached the public prosecutors' office immediately after the verdict has come out.
“The verdict was not expected. We will file an appeal,'' said prosecutor Jithesh Babu. “A direction regarding this has already reached us from the headquarters,'' said SP S. Harisankar Harisankar who had investigated the case
Sister Lucy Kalapurackal, an activist nun who has been fighting against the power centres in the Catholic Church said it was a "painful verdict''. "It’s a crime against all women, not just the nun. The verdict proves that only the rich and powerful will get justice. But in our country, which has a strong legal system, ordinary people will also get justice. The fight should go on,'' she said.
Harisankar said the verdict has sent out a wrong message to society. “We had expected 100 per cent conviction,'' he said.
The State Women’s Commission has also demanded the government to appeal against the verdict.
The case had started when both Mulakkal and the survivor nun filed petitions against each other. While Mulakkal had got a complaint lodged against the nun’s brother alleging he had threatened to eliminate him, the nun, who was earlier working in Jalandhar, filed a police case alleging that the bishop had raped her 13 times.
According to the complaint, a native of Kerala, Mulakkal started making advances ever since she moved back to Kerala in 2013. As per her complaint, Franco, who used to visit the convent in Kerala frequently, has raped her 13 times in two years. Not being able to take it anymore, she, towards the end of 2016, threatened him of making everything public if he did not desist from a forced physical relationship. According to her, he stopped visiting the convent but started targeting her in many ways.