Kottayam (Kerala), January 14
The acquittal of Roman Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal of charges of raping a nun in a Kerala convent by a court here triggered emotional reactions on Friday as nuns who support the survivor expressed shock and dismay over the verdict and said they would continue the fight till justice is prevailed while the jubilant bishop urged followers to ‘praise the lord and be happy’.
A group of nuns of Kuravilangad Convent here, who have been standing with the survivor in her fight, were on the verge of tears when they said they were yet to believe such a verdict came out from the court and they did not know what has happened.
The survivor and her supporters stay in the Kuravilangad convent in this south Kerala district.
Sister Anupama, who was the face of the nun’s years-long fight for justice, said they would surely challenge the verdict in the higher court and take forward the fight of their hapless colleague.
“We will continue our stay in the convent and take forward our fight till our sister gets justice. Police and prosecution showed justice to us but we did not get the expected justice from the judiciary,” the teary-eyed nun told reporters.
In a broken voice, she also said the verdict gives them a message that ordinary mortals like them should never break their silence against any injustice and fight a case whatever happened to them in the life.
“Those who are wealthy and influential can do anything in this society. That is what we see around us now. We have never felt anything strange till the time of argument of the case. We believe it was sabotaged after that,” she said.
When asked whether they would be safe in the convent and they expect any ill-treatment from the church authorities in the wake of the verdict, she said they had never been safe there and they could not reveal many things happening inside the institution.
Sister Anupama also made it clear that they were even ready to die to get justice for the survivor.
Meanwhile, a visibly relieved and emotional Mulakkal, who arrived in the court to hear the verdict, burst into tears, hugged his followers and lawyers, sharing his joy over the verdict.
“Only the trees that bear fruits are stoned. I am just proud of that. Praise the Lord,” an elated bishop told reporters outside the court.
When asked what he has to say to his followers and faithful, the priest urged them to praise the lord and be happy.
Some of his followers were even seen crying out of joy knowing the acquittal of the bishop.
Investigators, lawyers and social activists who stood with the nun in her fight against Mulakkal expressed shock over the verdict, saying it was totally unexpected.
Terming the verdict as “very very unfortunate” and “unnatural”, senior IPS officer S Harishankar, who had led the special investigation team in the rape case, said 100 per cent conviction was expected in the case and the verdict would be an “astonishment” for the entire legal system of the country.
In the case, the survivor was a nun and the assailant was a person who was powerful enough to decide whether she should continue to live or die.
“The argument that the woman should have reacted at the time of molestation is unacceptable. An appeal will be filed in the higher court challenging this verdict. The state police chief already gave instructions in this regard and an appeal will be filed as soon as we get a copy of the verdict,” he told reporters.
Even the supreme court made it clear multiple times that the victim’s statement, if it is consistent and not having massive contradictions, is a satisfactory piece of evidence for conviction, he said, adding that it would give a wrong message to society and those suffering similar assaults silently.
Public prosecutor, Jithesh J Babu, said it was a single-line judgment and could avail the details only after getting the copy of the verdict.
“We do not know what has happened. Thirty-nine witnesses have given their statements supporting the prosecution. No one has turned hostile. As many as 122 documents had been submitted and there was ample evidence. There was no lapse in anything,” he said.
He also said the verdict would be challenged in the higher court and the decision would be taken after consulting with the government and the investigators.
Activist-nun Sister Lucy Kalappura, who took part in the survivor’s fight for justice and was expelled from her congregation recently, said the verdict was regrettable and expressed hope that justice would be prevail at any cost in the higher court.
In a brief Malayalam statement issued soon after the verdict, the Jalandhar diocese thanked those who believed in the innocence of the Bishop till date and provided him with the necessary legal assistance.
“The prosecution has failed miserably in proving the charges against the Bishop”, said a lawyer in the Bishop’s legal team.
Mulakkal, 57, was accused of raping the nun multiple times during his visit to a convent in this district when he was the Bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of the Roman Catholic church.
As the prosecution failed to produce evidence against the accused, the Additional District and Sessions Court I, Kottayam, acquitted the Bishop.
The rape case against the Bishop was registered by police in Kottayam district in June, 2018.
In her complaint to the police, the nun had alleged that she was subjected to sexual abuse by Franco between 2014 and 2016.
The Special Investigation Team which probed the case, arrested the Bishop in September 2018 and charged him with wrongful confinement, rape, unnatural sex and criminal intimidation.
Trial in the case, started in November 2019, had concluded on January 10. The court had restrained the print and electronic media from publishing any matter relating to the trial in the case without its permission.