Ten days after the police arrested Fr. Robin Vadakkumchery, prime accused in the rape and subsequent impregnation of a 16-year-old girl from Kannur district, and with just one day to go for his judicial custody to end, the Kerala police is still trying to arrest the remaining seven accused in the case. These seven people include five nuns, an administrator and pediatrician at the hospital run by the church.
While Fr. Robin is the prime accused in the case, all the others have been booked for covering up the rape, pregnancy and delivery.
The police investigation so far has revealed that a network of various Christian institutions carefully planned and covered up the crime - to save their own face, and to save one of their own.
And as the investigation progresses, the fact that an intricate network of multiple organisations spanning across two districts is working to thwart the investigation is clear.
Although the police team has combed a number of convents in the district, police sources told The News Minute that they are facing "practical difficulties" with regard to arresting the remaining accused.
"Since they are associated with religious institutions we have practical difficulties in conducting searches. They have organisations across Kerala, and we need some more time to find where they could be hiding," the officer says.
Considering that there were multiple organisations and people involved in protecting Fr. Robin, the police suspect that the rest of the accused could also be receiving similar "support" from religious organisations they are part of.
"In the same way Fr Robin received support, the absconding people will also have protecting hands behind them, from inside the Church itself. This is what we are yet to find out. Any way, we will arrest them soon," the officer said.
How the crime was covered up
According to the police, there was a huge network of Church officials at work in covering up the crime. To begin with, the minor girl was a student at a school under the Church in which Fr. Robin was posted as a manager.
He allegedly raped the girl multiple times, after which she got pregnant.
On February 7, the girl was taken to Christu Raj hospital, run by a Christian management. Police say that Fr. Robin "donated" money to the hospital as reward for not reporting the incident to the police.
The hospital administrator then agreed to admit the girl, while gynaecologist Dr Tessy and Nellayani Thankamma assist in the delivery.
After the girl gave birth, Dr Hyderali, a pediatrician at the hospital allowed the baby to be discharged. The minor girl continued to get medical assistance for two days before she was allowed to return home.
Meanwhile, Nellayali Thankamma, Dr Liz Maria and Sr. Anita from Christu Dasi convent in Wayanad took the baby from the hospital to an orphanage in Wayanad. Sr. Anita drove a Maruti Eeco car to the orphanage. Two days ago, the police recovered the abandoned vehicle from Iratti in Wayanad district.
But while they’ve pieced the story together, the police have been unable to arrest the other seven accused.
So far, FIRs have been registered against 8 persons in the case, including five nuns, one of whom moved the Kerala High Court on Tuesday to file an anticipatory bail application.
Cases under the POCSO Act have been filed against prime accused Fr. Robin, Nelliyani Thankamma who assisted in the childbirth, gynecologist at Christu Raj hospital in Kannur Dr Tessy, pediatrician Dr Hyderali, hospital administrator Ancy Mathew, Dr Liz Maria and Sr. Anita from Christu Dasi convent in Wayanad. Sr. Ophilia, the Superintendent of the Holy infant Mary orphanage at Wayanad where the baby was taken is the accused number 8.
Church remains silent
For its part, the Church has been largely silent. While Fr. John Therakom was suspended by the Archdiocese after the Kerala govt sacked the priest from the post of Chairman of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) for co-operating in the cover-up, there has been no word from the Church on the absconding nuns.
An editorial published by Sunday Shalom and the Kerala Bishops Council’s response to TNM too, only point to the fact that the entire machinery of Church is refusing to take responsibility.
Sunday Shalom's editorial had even gone to extent of criticising the victim.
"Here the partner in the sin is more than 15 years old. Considering her in my daughter's position I am saying, daughter you too went wrong. You will be the first one answerable before god. Why did you forget who a priest was? Why didn't you know that the sanctity of a priest is equal to the holiness of Jesus's heart. He has a human body, he can get temptations. If he might have forgot that for a few seconds, my child who has taken the holy communion, why didn't you stop or correct him?" the article reads.
On the other hand, the Bishops Council had chosen to dismiss the incident, claiming it be be an "exception" among the 9033 catholic priests in Kerala. The council also put blame on ‘consumerism’ and media.
“Consumerism is indeed a situation affecting everyone in the world and priests are also in the world. It is in celibacy and in virginity the crisis became apparent first, then it will become a crisis of fidelity in marriage with extra-marital and premarital sex. Women are presented as commodity both in media and in advertisements and all commodities as marketed with girls and women where human body is dehumanized,” Fr. Paul Thelekat of the Bishops Council wrote in a statement given to The News Minute.