Indian Women Are Writing Letters of Solidarity to Nuns Who Spoke Against Sexual Abuse
Several Indian women have begun posting handwritten letters on social media addressed to the nuns in Kerala fighting for justice — expressing support and gratitude. The nuns stood up against 57-year-old Franco Mulakkal, a former bishop accused of raping a nun 13 times between 2014 and 2016. He was acquitted last week by a district court in the state — sparking outrage across the country.
“Justice is a limited word today, but it holds your hope, all our hopes, at least, for freedom from this need to be endlessly brave… Freedom from the horror that such violence is normal, accepted, common,” Rohini Mohan, a journalist, wrote in her letter.
Tweeting under the hashtags #WithTheNuns and #Avalkoppam, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, the objective of people writing the letters is to help the nuns feel less lonely in their fight to ensure justice for Sister X, the unnamed survivor. Sister X, from the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kuravilangad, had accused Mulakkal of wrongful confinement, rape, unnatural sex, and criminal intimidation. The sexual assaults took place when he visited her convent in Kottayam, Kerala, where she resided.
She was forced to approach the police after repeated complaints to church authorities were ignored, The Independent reported. She wrote to representatives of the Vatican, too, several times. “We experience neglect from every side. We feel the Catholic Church is having concern only for the bishops and priests. We would like to know if there is any provision in the Canon Law for justice for nuns and women,” Nurse X had written in her fourth letter.
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Mulakkal was subsequently arrested in 2018 — becoming the “first bishop in Indian Catholic history to be arrested for being accused in a rape case.” “We have won the first round of our struggle… Our struggle is for many such sisters suffering in silence, and we will continue our campaign until all our sisters get justice,” Sister Anupama, who had led demonstrations near the Kerala High Court, had told BBC News in 2018.
Unfortunately, last week’s judgment — acquitting Mulakkal of all charges — dealt a massive blow to the cause of Sister X and the nuns supporting her. Not only that, it served as yet another reminder of just how easily men can manage to escape the law, no matter how heinous, or repeated, their offenses may be.
An article on LiveLaw criticized the acquittal, calling the judgment “flawed” for focusing on putting the survivor on a “character trial” for allegedly having an affair with her cousin’s husband, which is not only absolutely irrelevant to the present case, but was also based on a statement from her cousin that she withdrew subsequently. Not only that, but the court also failed to appreciate what the power imbalance between the survivor and the accused can entail — “one cannot lose sight of the fact that the accused was in a position of authority over the [survivor]; the [survivor’s] position compels her to obey him,” Sebastian wrote.
Sister X’s lawyers are planning to challenge the verdict. The nuns haven’t given up on their fight yet. “The world is that of those with muscle and money power .. and we believe [that] happened in this case. We now feel that poor people like us should keep silent and not file a case. When the trial was happening, we did not feel it would be against us. We will continue to fight until our sister gets justice,” Sister Anupama said.
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S. Harisankar, who served as the Superintendent of Police in Kottayam during 2018, also expressed his disappointment at the judgment, saying, “This is an extremely unfortunate verdict, it is shocking for us. We had expected a conviction fully.” In the meantime, the National Commission for Women and the Network of Women in Media, too, have extended their support to the nuns.
The support stemming from the letters of solidarity by Indians on social media is a warm respite — teeming with kindness and love — in the face of systemic injustices at every corner.
“You knew the insurmountable risk you were taking when you decided to support Sister X… This, I believe, was your fight not just for Sister X, but for all women out there,” Dhanya Rajendran, editor-in-chief of The News Minute, wrote in her letter.
Despite overflowing support from different corners of the country, it is difficult to predict what the outcome of challenging the verdict would look like. But for now, these letters of hope by individuals whose heartfelt messages are aimed to stand with the nuns will, perhaps, garner more support in this battle against systemic patriarchy.