In perhaps the first-of-its kind protest witnessed by the Catholic Church in Kerala, a group of protesters gathered outside the St Joseph’s Provincialate convent in Kochi’s Pachalam neighbourhood on Saturday morning, to hold a public fund collective drive to organise a wedding. The bride is a nun who left the very same convent in 2019, alleging sexual harassment.
The 28 odd protesters held the drive right outside the convent run by the Assisi Sisters of Mary Immaculate Congregation. The initiative was a protest against the Church which refused to compensate the former nun, despite her having served the institution for 11 years - from age 17 to 28.
Speaking to TNM, the former nun who is currently working as a primary and secondary school English teacher in Karnataka, after she defrocked in May 2019, alleged that she left as she could not deal with the harassment and bigotry within the convent.
“I left to become a nun before I wrote my Class 12 exams. After a few years, I realised that the attitude of most superiors inside the convent was not the same. I faced restrictions from all quarters. They expected me to cook all day and every day because I could cook well. I am also a social person. However, they did not let me talk to people or make friends. They had a problem with me being me,” she told TNM.
On deciding to leave the church, the nun added that she received a lot of support from both her family as well as her friends. However, the church refused to offer any compensation for the years of service she had put in.
“Usually, the church is supposed to ensure a job to the person who has left the institution and offer any kind of support depending on his/her financial position. In this case, not only did the church not offer any compensation, they even refused to return the patrimony of Rs 30,000 that the family had given when the sister joined the convent,” George Joseph, executive committee member of Kerala Christian Reformation Movement (KCRM), which led the protest, told TNM.
George also added that the organisation had represented the family to ask for due compensation of Rs 15 lakh from the church in September 2019. However, the church did not entertain their mediation.
“We took an appointment with the provincial of the convent and discussed the issue with them. The former nun’s family comes from a very poor financial position. They needed the money, especially when they fixed her wedding. However, the convent authorities asked us not to intervene and promised that they would offer the compensation directly to the nun’s family,” George Joseph added.
Despite waiting for over four months, there has been no response on the promised compensation from the congregation. It was following this silence that the token fund collection drive was organised as a sign of protest.
“Anyone who has put in work and contributed to an institution deserves to be compensated. A domestic worker who works in your house is compensated on a daily basis. So why is there an exception for those working in the church? The nun in question and her family deserve to receive her dues from the church,” George added.
The members of the KCRM have also planned to move legally with regard to the issue.
“There seems to be no precedent to this case. We had discussed with a few lawyers on whether it would be a good idea to take the fight to the court. We have decided that, win or lose, we will fight this out legally” George told TNM.
The story will be updated when TNM receives a statement from the authorities at the Assisi Sisters of Mary Immaculate.