If you are not from Kerala, you may not know their names but they will go down in history as women who stood up for justice, refusing to be cowed down despite the looming opposition. Sisters Alphy, Anupama, Josephine, Nina Rose and Ancett are the Kerala nuns who've risked their prospects for their colleague and friend, a survivor of rape. And in their battle, there has come a David vs Goliath moment within the clergy itself.
The first victory in their battle against the Catholic Church came with the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the head of the Jalandhar Diocese, a powerful leader accused of raping a Kerala nun multiple times 4 years ago.
The news announced late on Friday was bittersweet for many. While most celebrated the arrest with marches and cries of victory, those in the thick of the fight for justice were unusually solemn.
Activist P Geetha was hardly amused by the announcement. Addressing the media she said, âWhat should have been a natural process took several months and the sweat and blood of many to achieve. But this is still a tiny hurdle crossed in the long journey to justice.â
Activist Stephen Mathew who resumed his 14th day of hunger strike after being discharged, vowed to protect the nuns in the days to come, as they would be most vulnerable now.
âThe land they stand on is his (Bishop Franco), the convent they live in is his. These nuns will face a tough time in the days to come and we will stand by them till the Bishop is convicted,â he said.
But among the solemn promises and cries of happiness, what was missing were the voices of the five nuns. They had left to their convent hours before the arrest was announced.
Addressing the crowd on Friday before leaving to the convent, Sister Anupama said:
âWe arenât fighting against the Bishop as a person, we are fighting against his ways and the silence of the church.â
A long-time friend of the survivor, Sister Anupama was part of two major developments in the case. Her father Varghese leaked the letter she had written to him, detailing the threats issued by Bishop Francoâs men to silence those supporting the survivor. Later, Varghese even released an audio tape which exposed a Catholic priest bribing Sister Anupama to withdraw her support to the cause.
Yet, despite several attempts to silence her, Sr Anupama sat on the dais on all 14 days, speaking on behalf of her friend and many others.
As Sr Anupama spoke to the crowd, another nun addressed a few reporters on the side.
âWe know we are going to face a tough time after this. But if the church plans to ostracise us for standing up for justice, we will fight it legally,â Sr Josephine stated.
Another vocal nun in the protest, Sr Jospehine had moved to the Missionaries of Jesus convent after a teaching stint in Bihar. Soon enough she lent her support to the cause and has stood in solidarity with the survivor ever since.
Today, she believes that if the Church fails her, the laws of the country will help her.
Sister Alphy did not speak much during the 14 days of protest. After giving short responses to questions posed by the media, she would go back to being silent, while holding a poster with âWe want justiceâ written in bold letters.
It was during her stint as a teacher in Bihar that the complaint was registered by the survivor in Kuruvilangad. Soon enough, Sr Alphy decided to return to Kerala for two months to lend her strength to the cause and fight for the Bishopâs arrest.
Sr Nina Rose
Another close aide of the survivor who has been in the convent since 2015, Sr Nina lent her support to the cause right from the beginning when news of the complaint received public attention.
Three years with the survivor nun in the same convent, St Ancett knew of the events that had unfolded and has been by the complainantâs side through thick and thin over the past few months.
The 5 nuns believe that it was God who gave them the strength to battle against the ways of the Church. Whether it is their faith or their strong desire to undo a wrong done to one of their other own, these women have fought hard for justice and won a crucial battle. But the war has just begun and will continue till the courts convict the accused, they promise.