Thiruvananthapuram A day after a Kottayam court acquitted former Bishop of Jalandhar, Franco Mullakal, 57, the lone accused in the Kerala nun rape case, women activists, activists and legal experts have criticised the verdict, claiming that it casts aspersions on the victim.
Former Kerala high court judge, justice Kamal Pasha, said the verdict was a clear case of “miscarriage of justice”; he has also questioned some of the verdict’s findings. He added that the Supreme Court has clearly stated that an accused can be convicted on the testimony of the victim, if she is found to be credible and trustworthy.
The case surfaced in June 2018 after a 43-year-old nun, also a mother superior belonging to the Missionaries of Jesus congregation based in Punjab, filed a police complaint in Kottayam saying Mullakal had raped her several times between 2014 and 2016. The complaint was filed in June 2018, but it took the police three months to arrest Mullakal in September.
PROSECUTION TO MOVE HC
The prosecution team is mulling its options, including filing an appeal against the verdict in the high court. A part of this team, former superintendent of police S Harishankar, who supervised the investigation for three years, said, “We will approach the high court in a couple of days.” In an outburst against the verdict on Friday, he had said that “it was unprecedented in legal history”. A defence lawyer said this statement would be brought to the notice of the HC registrar.
Some activists have started an online campaign “Avalkoppam” (with her) to vent their anger and outrage. While asking the government to move the HC, activists say the Covid situation is preventing them from carrying out candle-light protest marches.
Mullakal visited his relatives and Kerala Congress leader PC George on Saturday. George, who has been backing Mullakal, said, “A move to dent the powerful church was foiled by believers.”
WHAT THE COURT HAS SAID
“There are exaggerations and embellishments in the victim’s statement. Police failed to seize the mobile phone of the victim, as it would have given some input into alleged messages sent by the accused. The in-fighting… of the nuns and desire for power and position to control congregation is evident,” additional district and sessions judge G Gopakumar says in his 289-page order; the victim’s statements were contradictory and corroborative evidences were missing, the judge added.
“This is a case in which grain and chaff are inextricably mixed up… she made every attempt to hide certain facts. It is evident that the victim was swayed under the influence of others, who had vested interests in the matter,” the order says, adding, “This court is unable to place reliance on the solitary testimony of the victim and hold the accused guilty of offences charged against him.”
“The court has agreed to all contentions put forward by the defence; the prosecution was also overconfident. It is a disappointing verdict for all suffering women,” said Joemon Puthanpurakkal, who had fought Sister Abhaya case for 28 years, where Abhaya’s body was found in a convent well; finally, a nun and a priest were convicted.
“Soon after she filed a police complaint, there was a concerted social media attack on her by people close to the church. Many theories and stories were floated, once she filed a complaint. Sad, the court also fell into the defence trap,” said Sister Jesme, who came out of the congregation questioning the alleged ill-treatment by church authorities. She claimed that according to the court’s interpretation the relationship between the victim and accused was consensual, which was shocking.