Frustrated with delays and living under pressure, five nuns of the Missionaries of Jesus convent at Kuruvilangad in Kottayam on Saturday reached the Kottayam SP’s office to submit a petition seeking a speedy submission of the chargesheet in the Bishop Franco rape case. Bishop Franco Mulakkal has been accused of raping a 44-year-old nun multiple times between 2014 and 2016 and is currently out on bail.
In the petition, the nuns have asked for the reasons behind the delay in filing the chargesheet and stated that they, as well as the survivor nun, are under an immense amount of pressure.
"We, the crucial witnesses in the case have been living with utmost fear and anxiety. We understand that the investigation in the case had been completed days ago and the chargesheet is ready to be filed before the court. But it has been delayed due to some reasons. We don’t understand why the chargesheet is being delayed in the case, which is not so in similar cases, without any reasons. We even are tempted to doubt that it is due to the influence of the accused who is prominent and politically and financially powerful,” the petition says.
One of the nuns, Sister Anupama had stated last month that though Bishop Franco has been relieved of his administrative duties as head of Jalandhar diocese, he was interfering in the functioning of the diocese.
In the petition submitted to the SP on Saturday, the nuns add, “Hopefully, the pressure we are going through has come to the notice of you as well as that of the government. There was move a couple of months ago to transfer five of us to various parts of the country, which we even doubt as an attempt to finish us off. The complainant at the convent has been ostracised. You should be aware of Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, who died in a mysterious condition, and the pressure and the harassment sister Lissy Vadakkel, who is said to be the prime witness in the case, has been going through for the past many weeks. We are also concerned about her safety; she is aged and is a patient.”
With their names signed at the bottom of the letter, Sister Alphy, Sister Anupama, Sister Josephine, Sister Neena Rose and Sister Ancitta met SP Harisankar at his office at noon.
“Given the circumstances, we request you to submit the chargesheet as early as possible and to ensure safety for the witnesses, including us. We would also remind you that the delay in submitting the chargesheet, because of whatever reason, causes utmost grief and fear in us. We don't know how long we will be able to survive like this. We hope that you would be able to understand out helplessness and a favourable decision would come out," the petition concludes.
The nuns have been standing in support of the survivor since the allegations surfaced and have staged public protests in Kochi for days – backed by the Save Our Sisters forum – against rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal.
In January, they were asked to leave the convent in Kuruvilangad and return to the convents that they had been previously assigned. The nuns had refused to follow the order and it was later revoked.
Speaking to the media outside the SP’s office, the nuns stated that the SP has told them that the chargesheet will be filed in three-four days.
"We have submitted the petition on the delay of submitting the charge sheet. The SP told us that it will be filed in three-four days. We believe that the pressure is on us because of the political and financial influence of Bishop Franco. Even within the convent, the survivor nun has been facing various kinds of harassment – she hasn’t been provided with medicines or even food. This has caused a deterioration of her health. He had also said that providing safety for Sister Lissy Vadakkel will also be considered. We have also brought the condition of Sister Lissy to the SP's notice,” Sister Anupama told reporters.
Sr Anupama had told TNM on Friday that if there is an inordinate delay in the filing of the chargesheet, they will begin protests again.
“We strongly feel there is political pressure behind the delay in the chargesheet being filed for the case. Bishop Franco is a highly influential person. If need be, he can exercise pressure on government or any other political party. Every day we are wondering when the chargesheet will be filed so that the court can begin the trial,” Sr Anupama told TNM.
As for the church’s involvement, Sr. Anupama feels that the church authorities too are supporting and rooting for any kind of delay in the case.
“So many priests and church authorities have gone and visited Bishop Franco when he was in jail. If anybody dissents within the institution, these authorities are quick to silence them,” Sr Anupama added.