The News Minute| March 30, 2015| 6.40 pm IST
In February 2015, when Sister Anita returned to Thottakkattukara in Kerala after a dreadful ordeal at Motherhouse in Italy, she was hoping that her alma mater, Sisters of St Agata Convent in Aluva, would take her in.
“There were days in Italy when they refused to give me food,” TNIE quotes her, recounting the alleged horrors of her three year stay in Italy.
“After a series of torture, I was thrown out of the convent on February 19. When I sought shelter in another convent, with the help of another nun, the congregation authorities bought air ticket to Kochi and asked me to leave Italy,” Sister Anita told a roomful of journalists at a press conference on March 2 in Kochi.
But when she reached the convent in Aluva, she was denied entry. "My luggage was thrown out and I was asked to leave the convent. It was the local people who took me to the Janaseva Sisubhavan," she said.
If this was a nightmare for the nun, then the events leading up to her transfer to Italy, if her allegations are to be believed, are even more traumatising.
In 2011, Sisiter Anita was transferred from her convent in Aluva to a convent in Panchore in Madhya Pradesh. While working as a high school teacher, a priest at the convent allegedly sexually harassed her. According to Sister Anita, when she complained to the Mother Superior, she was reprimanded, isolated and soon shipped to Italy.
Four years later, the case is hogging the headlines again as the Catholic Church in Kerala, under pressure, has decided to pay Rs 12 lakh to the nun to "rehabilitate" her. The congregation, which is alleged to have thrown her out with her baggage when she sought help, has asked her to return her robes.
The settlement is being touted as the first of its kind by the church, but the church denies allegations of "sexual harassment".
“What sexual harassment? Who has spoken about sexual harassment? People are obsessed with sex and the word sex, so someone made up this story. I asked the nun if she had been harassed and she said no. When she has no complaint, then why are others bothered?” asks Father Paul Thelakkattu, spokesperson of the Syro Malabar Church.
Thelakkattu has no clear answers to why she was not allowed inside the church after returning from Italy. “She came back from Italy in February, but she cannot get along with the community anymore,” he said, with no explanation as to why she was unable to get along with the community.
Sister Anita had joined the congregation in Aluva in 2007, and was part of a different congregation for almost a decade before that.
Reji Njallani, National Chairman of the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement, which is helping Sister Anita through this torment alleges that she faced immense hardships in Italy. “She told us that she was made to do all the kitchen chores in the congregation, which was a workload for 4 to 5 usually. They had not paid her salary too for many years.”
Further, according to Njallani, Sister Anita had met a Bishop in Ernakulam and demanded that the church act on her complaint. She had also demanded that if the congregation was not willing to take her back, then she has to be compensated. “The church is powerful. There was a lot of pressure on the family, and finally the Sister agreed. Anyway, at 40 years of age, it is only justified that she asks for compensation,” he says.
Father Paul Thelakkattu denies the amount was paid as compensation. “It was an amount to appreciate her service to the church. She has been a part of the church for 24 years. She is 40 years now and we know that it will be tough for her to suddenly start her life.”
But are all nuns who leave the congregation given such huge settlements? “No, everyone is not compensated, but as I said, she was part of church for many years. So it was our benevolence that we decided to pay her,” Father Paul Thelakkattu said.
“The Sister should throw that money back at the congregation and lead a dignified life. I can help her,” says Jesme, another nun who had walked out of her congregation in 2008 alleging physical and mental harassment. In the last few years, Jesme has become a rallying point for those questioning the church in Kerala. She has even penned a book called "Amen" based on her experiences.
Sister Jesme (Image Source: YouTube)
Jesme says the church’s explanation that Sister Rose was paid out of benevolence is laughable. “Do they pay everyone who leaves? This money has been paid to buy her silence. The church is like a huge stone wall, there are some hands thumping on it asking for justice, but that will not damage the wall. We need more people like Sister Rose, and that is why she needs to give the money back,” Jesme adds.
Sister Anita could not be reached by The News Minute even after repeated attempts.