14 March 2019

An Open Letter to Pinaray Vijayam, Chief Minister of Kerala Demanding Immediate Action on the Appeal of the Nuns

Dear Chief Minister

The rape survivor and the other five nuns who supported her in the case against Franco are facing an imminent threat of being separated and sent away from Kerala by their congregation, the Missionaries of Jesus. Ever since they have participated in the agitation held at Vanchi square in Ernakulam that led to the arrest of Franco, they were individually targeted and harassed within the convent by the church authorities. Now that the case is pursued strongly by the state, the Congregation has strengthened its pressure tactics against the nuns in an obvious attempt to weaken the case by influencing and interfering in their evidence. The four nuns who are supporting the rape survivor, who are also key witnesses   in the  case against Bishop Franco have been asked to join different convents in Punjab, Jharkand Bihar and Kannur. Another nun/witness who had stood with them is asked by the church to appear before the authorities in Jalandhar where at present Franco is housed by 26th of this month and explain her actions. All five of them are key witnesses to the case.

This act of commanding the nun for personal appearance amounts to direct intervention of church authorities in weakening their case, and throttling their voice from the public sphere. It is to be remembered that Franco has been given bail on condition that he can’t enter Kerala except to report to an investigating officer. It is apparent that the Congregation is ensuring that the key witnesses are moved out of the jurisdiction of Kerala police, but at the same time accessible to Franco and company. It needs to be emphasized here that Sr. Regina, the Mother Superior, who has directed the sister for personal appearance at Jalandhar is a strong supporter of Bishop Franco, and had voluntarily deposed before the police in defence of Franco, and she did the same, even more explicitly, in print and visual media.  Also it is evident that Sr. Regina denied opportunity to Sr. Neena Rose to appear for her Post Graduate studies’ final examination. Apart from this, Sr. Anupama was compelled by Franco to write an apology in November 2017, and Sr. Regina was instrumental in making this happen.

It needs to be noted with high amount of suspicion that since Sr. Regina is directly involved in commanding a witness to go to Jalandhar, where Franco reportedly resides, the highest offices of power in the church are being misused for the illegal protection of Franco. In this context, it is to be noted that a main witness in this case Fr. Kuriakose Kattuthara died under suspicious circumstances in Jalandhar after Franco was released on bail. Fr. Kattuthara’s relatives have raised this issue and they reasonably suspect this as a well-planned murder. We strongly believe that by enforcing the transfer order issued to the nuns supporting the survivor/witnesses the congregation of Missionaries of Jesus is in fact purporting   to help the accused Franco to come in contact with the nuns / witnesses in a bid to influence their evidence. In effect, the congregation authorities is liable for criminal obstruction of justice. Also, the effort to scatter the nuns should also  be read as an attempt to destabilise the solidarity that they have built around the church and in the public. 

Further, in the Witness Protection Scheme 2018  approved by the Supreme Court of India , the section ‘Types of Protection Measures’ envisages that the authorities should ensure that “witness and accused do not come face to face during investigation or trial”. The principle underlying the Witness Protection Scheme is to see that the accused and his supporters never threaten or intimidate the witness or endanger their lives or use any kind of force or influence over them. Hence it is binding on the congregation of Missionaries of Jesus to extend protection and support to the rape survivor and nuns (witnesses) who rallied around her. Moreover, the state is also bound to ensure their safety and ensure safeguards guaranteed under law.

It is now a well known fact that the accused Franco enjoys immense clout among his congregation members, priests, nuns and laity alike, inside and outside Kerala. We strongly fear that any move to get the nuns who are key witnesses in the case out of their convent where police protection is already ensured will be disastrous and is likely to annul their evidence.  Under these circumstances, we urge the government to ensure that their lives and safety are not endangered by enforcing the transfer order. We, the undersigned strongly condemn the patent misuse of the highest offices of the Catholic Church to defend the powerful accused and attack and punish the sisters who are on a mission to bring justice to the rape survivor. We also call upon the Government to listen to the concerns of the sisters, and initiate immediate action to forestall the move to remove them, in any way, from their present convent where the Government is already giving protection, till the trial is completed.

We the undersigned request immediate and effective interventions of your office to ensure constitutional and legal protection to all the sister involved in the struggle for justice.

Women Against State Repression and Sexual Violence (WSS), Priya Pillai , Social Environmental Activist, New Delhi, Kavitha Krishnan, All India Progressive Womens Association (AIPWA), Dr. PJ James, PB Member, CPI(ML) Red Star, MK Dasan, Kerala State Secretary, CPI (ML) Red Star, Sharmisths Choudhury, General Secretary, All India Revolutionary Women’s Organization – AIRWO, Pramila, President, AIRWO and hundreds of women activists, political activists and intellectuals. n

Kabeer Katlat

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.