Secular organisations come out in support of Kerala nun; seek justice

Sep 15, 2018, 14:20 IST | Hemal Ashar

Silence is not golden, say supporters of complainant nun, urging those that believe to stand up for her

Secular organisations come out in support of Kerala nun; seek justice
Ravi Bhilane, Firoze Mithiborwala, Brinelle D'Souza, Dolphy D'Souza, Sister Noella D'Souza and Noorjehan Safia Niyaz at the conference yesterday. Pic/Hemal Ashar

Putting fire into a Friday afternoon, secular organisations and community representatives spoke out at a conference in solidarity with the survivor nun. The conference was held at Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh at Azad Maidan. The speakers took aim at the slow action against Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal. A Kerala nun has accused him of raping her, saying she was sexually abused 13 times between 2014 and 2016.

'We are ashamed'
The speakers, though, first took aim at themselves, saying that they apologised for being slow to speak out and stand up for the survivor. They also said that it was a time to hang their heads in shame at the accusations, but more so at the silence of those whom the nun had complained to.

Voice for voiceless
Speaker Dolphy D'Souza, former national vice-president of the All India Catholics Union, said, "We have gathered here to give voice to the voiceless, we stand on the side of the suppressed."

D'Souza said, underlining the overarching message that this was about gender justice, "The survivor is a woman first and a nun later," and slammed as "disgusting" the independent MLA PC George's statement when he called the nun a "prostitute".

Get no help
Powerful and evocative, Sister Noella D'Souza said, "Silence from the Church does not give much relief from the current overheated atmosphere. It is a disconcerting feeling when the Church, which is your family, is approached and you receive no help. As a woman, I have seen a different face of the Church, the one I love and serve, when one dares to disagree or question the powers that be. In this case, we cannot let our sisters be suppressed. We have to up the pressure, we weep with those who weep and are emboldened by the words of Jesus Christ who said: I am with you."

Challenge the order
For Noorjehan Safia Niyaz of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), the nun's case and the response from some (silence, conspiracy theories, and threats) resonated deeply. Noorjehan said that, "There are many who believe that women have no right to question mullahs/pandits/the clergy who think they are the ultimate custodians of a religion. Well, women have started questioning. They cannot take us for granted any longer."

Noorjehan gave the example of the 'Haji Ali Sabke Liye' and Shani Shingnapur movements, where women won the right to enter places of worship, as an example of how women are challenging the patriarchal order, and said that often women were asked to choose between their faith and being a citizen of this country. "We are both, women of our faith and Indians," said Noorjehan.

Crimes against women
Activist Ravi Bhilane, part of a non-profit called Lokanche Dost, slammed the all-time high in crimes against women under the current BJP rule. "People say that there were crimes against women during the Congress rule too. Yet, we did not see supporters of criminals walking with the tricolour then," claimed Bhilane, referring to the Unnao and Kathua cases, even as activist Firoze Mithiborwala said, "The space for social reform should be within communities."

Do not isolate
Professor Brinelle D'Souza of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences said, "We should also be concerned for the five sisters of the complainant's congregation who have stuck by her. They are also being attacked and are being shamed for their association with her. The nun's letters show what a personal, lonely battle it has been so far. Isolating the complainant means going against the teachings of Christ."

The speakers had several demands, the first of which was that the accused immediately step down as Bishop of Jalandhar and Patron of the Congregation for the duration of the police investigation.

They were adamant that this was going to be a long fight where people needed to speak out, and this was not a time or place for fence-sitters. They rounded off, "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

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