By Lekshmi Gopalakrishnan
When a senior advocate in the Kerala High Court suddenly refused her brief in a case regarding her eviction from the home congregation, Sister Lucy Kalappura did not get upset. She clearly knew that she was fighting a lonely do-or-die battle. Before him, a handful of other advocates also had rejected outright her case against the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) under the Catholic Church from where she was expelled recently for allegedly failing to give a 'satisfactory explanation' for her lifestyle in violation of its rules.
But, the unperturbed retired school teacher-nun was not ready to give up the fight as she argued the case on her own though she had very limited knowledge about legal jargons.
Though the church justified its decision to expel her from the centuries-old congregation, where she had been a member for the last four decades, the nun dismissed the charges and decided to fight it legally.
"I am fighting for justice and dignity. Justice and truth will prevail finally. So why should I fear? I will stand with my head held high as I have not done anything wrong," Kalappura told PTI in an interview.
This fearlessness seems to have gained the Catholic nun a rebellious image among the church authorities but won her several admirers among the public.
She also does not mind if someone calls her an "activist nun" as she believes that there is an activist within everyone's persona.
Learning driving, buying a car to meet travel needs, publishing her poetry collection and even penning an autobiography might have raised many eyebrows but Sister Lucy said it did not make any difference in her dedication and service to the church and society.
Sr Lucy, who took part in a protest by nuns belonging to Missionaries of Jesus Congregation seeking the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, accused of raping a nun, was expelled by the FCC under the Roman Catholic Church in August 2019.
The centuries-old congregation said she was expelled for "failing" to provide explanation for her lifestyle, which allegedly violated church rules.
The congregation, in its notice, had termed as "grave violations" Sister Lucy possessing a driving license, buying a car, taking a loan for it and publishing a book and spending money without the permission and knowledge of her superiors and the Vatican ratified the decision by rejecting her three appeals against the expulsion recently.
Now, she is fighting a case at a Munsif court seeking her right to stay in the FCC convent at Karackamala in northern Wayanad district.
The High Court, which ruled last month that police protection against eviction from the convent could not be provided to her, also directed the civil court to take a decision expeditiously on her plea regarding her stay at the FCC convent.
However, the 56-year old nun, who recently retired as a mathematics teacher in an aided school in the high range of Wayanad district after 24 years of service, doesn't seem worried about the outcome of the legal battle.
"I know it will be a long-drawn legal battle. I will take the fight till the apex court seeking to uphold my dignity as a nun and continue my stay at the convent of the congregation I have been a part of for nearly 40 years. I have complete faith in our judiciary," she added.
Hailing from northern Kannur district, Sr Lucy alleged that the hardships she has been suffering and the challenges faced for the last two years were beyond words.
"From denial of food and social exclusion inside the convent to cyber bullying, life threat and fabricated stories outside... I have been facing it all for the last few years since I have started questioning the unacceptable practices of the system," she said.
The woman, who had joined the FCC as a nun at the age of 17, alleged that she had been denied access to each and every corner of the convent.
There were attempts to throw her out of her room, block her entry into the kitchen to cook food or drink water, damage the toilet and deny power supply by destroying switch boards inside the convent, she further charged.
She even had to launch a hunger strike in front of the convent to get power supply restored in the corridor near her room, following which police intervened last month.
If a woman faces such a situation in her spouse's house, she can approach the legal system of the land and lodge a complaint of harassment. But, in the case of a nun, it is very tough to take such a decision, she said.
The expelled nun said that though the church and the congregation authorities expected that she would run away giving up her fight, she was seeing all these hardships as the god-given chance to "educate and empower" women in fighting challenges and upholding their dignity in life.
"Through my life, I am trying to show an example to the women in society how they can fight challenges and hardships and carry forward their life without any fear," she added.
She also denied charges levelled by the congregation and claimed that obtaining a driving license or penning a book were not sins.
Claiming that she had not violated any church rules in these four decades as a nun, Sister Lucy said that she had started keeping her monthly salary without handing it over to the Mother Superior of the convent since she was even denied food.
"Whatever they do, there is no going back from nun-hood. I will continue to live as a nun. I embraced this life at the age of 17 not to give it up at some point," she said.
Asked about her family's stand about her bold nature, the nun said her 87-year old mother and 10 siblings were all supportive of her though they were worried about her safety and the cyber bullying by alleged supporters of the church.
However, a church spokesperson rejected all charges levelled by the nun and justified her expulsion from the congregation.
"A congregation has its own rules and regulations and style of functioning. A person becomes part of the religious movement after accepting all such rules. If anyone finds it difficult to live in adherence to it, that person can walk out of the system," Fr Jacob Palackappilly, spokesperson, the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC), told PTI.
Otherwise, its management may be forced to take action against the individual, he added. Stating that the Catholic Church and congregations under ithavetheir own internal platforms for raising complaints, he said it was not unusual to take action against those who cross the boundaries.
When asked whether the church should be ready to make timely changes in its rules and regulations, he said that like any other movement, changes are happening in the church also.
Church reform activist Indulekha Joseph said that the alleged harassment in nunneries and congregations could be stopped only if the government comes out with a legislation in this regard.
A social stigma is attached to those who are coming out of the nunneries and decide to live an ordinary life and so a majority of nuns would prefer to suffer all the alleged hardships there silently, said Indulekha. She also said that a majority of nuns are "unpaid labourers" in congregations.