Putting her weight behind the survivor, Sugathakumari teacher tells TNM, “If they have come out with these statements, it’s because they were so incredibly saddened by the state of affairs.”

My duty to be with them Why poet Sugathakumari is supporting protesting nunsPTI
news Interview Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 16:09

Over twelve years ago, in January 2006, when activist, environmentalist and poet Sugathakumari teacher was awarded the Padma Shri in recognition of her poetry, she told a reporter quite poignantly, “These days I feel I'm slowly walking away from it all, to a world that is futile or meaningless. I have seen so much that many things are no longer important to me.”

But even a veteran activist as seasoned as 84-year-old Sugathakumari teacher has been uniquely touched by the ongoing movement for justice for the protesting nuns from Missionaries of Jesus, demanding the arrest of rape-accused bishop Franco Mulakkal. “I think it is my duty to be with them,” the octogenarian tells TNM, days after she attended a protest outside the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, in support of the nuns who are protesting in Kochi.

Sugathakumari teacher is a household name in Kerala. The former chairperson of the Kerala State Women’s Commission, she is also the founder of a home for the destitute and for people with mental illnesses in Thiruvananthapuram called Abhaya. She was the leader of the 1973 Save Silent Valley protest, and is the daughter of freedom fighter Bodheswaran. The fact that she has lent her support to the nuns has inspired several Keralites to take note and stand up for justice as well.

“I have been working in this field for decades, in activism and social work. Cases like this are not new, we have heard about these incidents and stories for years now,” Sugathakumari teacher says. “I know how many women are humiliated and assaulted, and how many of them actually end up receiving justice. Most women don’t talk about these incidents publicly, and for every reported case, there are a hundred unreported cases,” she explains.

Putting her weight behind the survivor and the protesting nuns, Sugathakumari teacher says, “There is simply no reason for nuns to come out with such a story unnecessarily. The fact that they are nuns is also why so many people have reacted so emotionally to this case. If they have come out with these statements, it’s because they were so incredibly saddened by the state of affairs. I think it is my duty to be with them.”

Speaking of the mood at the protest she attended outside the Secretariat in Trivandrum, Sugathakumari teacher says, “Everyone gathered there had a lot of anger and sadness. Especially because the protesters are nuns… They lead very orderly and quiet lives, and spend their whole lives in the cloister. For them to have to come out publicly, and tell the truth, there was shame on a lot of their faces. But I said, it was a shame for the whole country that such a case had to come out.”

She points out that while politicians have deliberately steered clear of the protest, for no reason but “vote bank politics”, the public and media have rallied around the victim here, and she believes that new laws and changing social climates have contributed to the unfolding of this case in this way. “If this came out ten years ago, they would definitely not have received such support. And not only that, it wouldn’t have even been reported, it wouldn’t have come out, it would have just been kept a secret. Now, there are new, better laws in place, and women, too, have more courage to speak up.”

She hopes that new developments, like the establishment of fast-track courts for rape cases, will guarantee speedier justice in this case. “The Suryanelli case, the Vithura case, the Nalini Netto case, so many cases, how many years have gone by and these cases just get stuck in appeals after appeals. They just keep getting delayed, but we have speed courts now. I really hope the nuns get justice.”

When asked if she believes the protesting nuns will actually get justice, she says that question is irrelevant. “It’s not will they receive justice, they simply must receive justice. Now let the investigation go on. When the investigation is carried out, the truth will come out, right?”

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