In June 2018, a 50-year-old nun accused former Bishop Franco Mulakkal of wrongful confinement, rape, criminal intimidation, and unnatural sex. Mulakkal was the first Indian bishop to be arrested in connection with sexual abuse. After two years of lengthy judgment, which began in 2020, on June 14, Judge G Gopakumar found Franco Mulakkal not guilty of all charges. Judge Gopakumar commented that there had been “exaggerations and embellishments” in the nun’s witness statement. He also expressed doubts over her testimony and motives by saying she had been “swayed under the influence of others who had vested interests in the matter” and “made every attempt to hide certain facts .” The judge wrote in his verdict that “The in-fight and rivalry and group fights of the nuns, and the desire for power, position, and control over the congregation, is evident in the case”. The nun accused Mulakkal, who headed the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar, of raping her on 13 occasions at the missionaries of Jesus convent in Kottayam, Kerala, between 2014 and 2016. S Harisankar, the police chief who oversaw the case, said he expected a conviction and added his concern that the verdict might send a wrong message to society.
The unprecedented belief in evidence and the precedented act of victimization of the victims place the accused as innocent until proven otherwise and the survivors as doubtful until established otherwise is undoubtedly a wrong message to society. The verdict holds a position of discussion since it is in a country ranked as the most dangerous country for women by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Shocked by the decision of the Kottayam Additional Sessions Court, journalist Leena Gita Raghunath and public policy professional Athira Sujatha launched an online letter campaign to express solidarity with the complainant and the nuns who have supported her through the trial. Athira wrote on her Instagram post about the several years of “steadfast support to upholding justice by talking truth to power” gave her an “extraordinary feat of hope and courage” since it was not only for the survivor of this particular case “but to survivors, bystanders and witnesses everywhere.” In her Facebook post, Academician J Devika called for “protests that can awaken the imagination of the people .” The sisters received more than hundreds of letters expressing solidarity through the campaign.
The sisters might approach higher courts, and the verdicts might change. The uncertainty of the future is a grievous concern. The possibility of such uncertainty calls out the need for a change in a system. What scares me is that the system referred to here is one among the foundational systems of a country which is the last resort for any voice seeking justice. As Arundhati Roy said, there is no voiceless voice. Instead, some voices are preferably unheard or suppressed. It is high time we think about the changes to be made in the country’s legal system to reinstate the lost and losing hopes.
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