‘If not now, when?’: Meet the Keralites rushing to Kochi to join nuns’ protest

The thread that connects all of them is the sense that justice is being denied, and that this is the moment to speak up.
‘If not now, when?’: Meet the Keralites rushing to Kochi to join nuns’ protest
‘If not now, when?’: Meet the Keralites rushing to Kochi to join nuns’ protest

Moolayil Valsala, a 70-year-old retired college lecturer from Thrissur, travelled 135 kilometres to Kochi on Monday morning, not for any personal reason, but to support the nuns from Missionaries of Jesus protesting for justice for their colleague. Valsala, too, wants Bishop Franco Mulakkal to be arrested, and after she spent the day in Kochi, sitting in protest with the nuns, she travelled back to Thrissur.

Drawing a parallel with the historic Nirbhaya protests in Delhi, Valsala tells TNM, “Women in Kerala should be able to raise their heads and walk confidently, after supporting these protesting nuns. What are we going to do in this God’s own country, how are our daughters going to raise their heads in a decent response? Aren't we supposed to give justice to these women?”

Like Valsala, who has travelled to Kochi and back on two days now, several Keralites from different parts of the state have come together in Kochi for what is seen by them as a historic protest, that has the power to change the system – and the lives of hundreds of women. Scores of people are gathered near the High Court every day for the last 10 days, where the survivor’s sister has now joined a hunger strike started by 85-year-old Jose Joseph, who belongs to Joint Christian Council.

And the thread that connects all of them is the sense that justice is being denied, and that this is the moment to speak up.

Mohamed Abdurahiman, a 57-year-old retired civil servant, made a six-hour journey by train and bus on Tuesday, along with his friends from Nilambur, to join the protest in Kochi. “I feel in my life I have not seen such a struggle for such a noble cause. Because the Church in Kerala has given a lot of valuable support for education, cultural, and hospital development over the years, the political establishment is not siding with the victim. But it’s, in fact, the long-standing, selfless service of the nuns that has allowed the Church to carry out these charitable acts all these years,” he says.

Stressing that the system was working for the accused bishop, he adds, “This nun is simply requesting public for justice. If I do not attend such a protest, what is the use of my life? It will be meaningless.”

Abdurahiman also says that many of his friends who are currently active in civil or government service are supporting the protest, but fear that if they are seen to be supporting the nuns, they will be singled out, as the agitation is being seen as anti-government.

Several others have joined the protest because they see this as only the tip of the iceberg, and hope that this protest will lead to systemic reform.

“We need to change this atmosphere where young children are handed over to the Church at the age of 15. If they change their minds or want to leave the Church, there’s no option for them: they are too young to decide at 15 and if they change their minds, their families consider them an embarrassment,” says Varghese Sakaria, the chairman of a charitable organisation based in Kanjikuzhi, Wayanad called Professional Education Procession and Social Welfare Organisation (PEPSWO). Varghese traveled to the protest on the second day after it was announced, and stayed for three days, after which he returned to Idukki. He came back to the protest in Kochi on Monday, and intends to stay until their demands have been met and the protest is fruitful.

“I have known so many sisters who have told me, “pettu poyi cheta” [I got stuck/trapped, brother]. This needs to change. The treatment of the nuns also needs to change. Sisters are not even given the amount of money required to care for a dog, they can’t even look after themselves or their families and parents, whereas the fathers and bishops all end up with enough money,” he adds.

For Valsala, joining the protest is also a way to give voice to the injustice she has witnessed before. “Sister Jesme, former principal of St Mary’s College, actually brought up this issue years back,” Valsala points out. “She finally left her cloistered existence, and at the time, everyone said she is a hysterical woman, that she has a boyfriend and wants to lead a life of freedom and abandon so she can have a nice time with young people. I know Sister Jesme, she is a great teacher who used to teach my own daughters. I have a prick of conscience that I never protected her. It was my responsibility as a lecturer to raise my voice and support her, but I never did that. I enjoyed my life of so-called happiness, but this time I thought enough is enough, I have to speak out so that these nuns get some justice.”

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