A group of Catholic nuns has spent the last week protesting outside a court in India over the lack of investigation into claims a senior bishop repeatedly raped a sister at a convent.
The nuns have staged their demonstration outside Kerala High Court in Kochi after the church where the accused bishop is based came out in support of the priest.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is based at a church in Jalandhar, Punjab, is alleged to have raped the unnamed nun multiple times when visiting the state of Kerala for official business over the years.
The Missionaries of Jesus, Jalandhar, said it has conducted an internal inquiry into the matter and found that the bishop is innocent, saying on Thursday the allegations were “politically motivated” – implying that far-right Hindu and “rationalist” groups were to blame.
On Friday, a leaked picture showing the alleged victim, who is anonymous, with the bishop was circulated on social media and some TV channels.
Despite denying it was the source of the leak, Missionaries of Jesus did comment on the photograph, claiming the fact that the nun can be seen sitting in his company “was proof that she had not been sexually assaulted”.
It added: “Any woman, who was raped by a man, would never attend functions or travel with that man. This is a truth that cannot be denied.”
Under Indian law, publishing the identity of an alleged victim of sexual assault is an offence.
The church body said the nun who had complained "had conspired in connivance with nine others, including five nuns, against the bishop".
She first filed a police complaint in June, accusing Mr Mulakkal of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 in a town in Kerala. The nun said she had no choice but to go to the police after church authorities ignored her complaints and took no action against the bishop.
The Missionaries of Jesus is based in Punjab’s Jalandhar but it runs two convents in Kerala. The alleged abuse took place in the town of Kottayam.
The nuns, a group of around ten protesting outside court, are colleagues of the alleged victim, and have been joined by various women’s rights and other protest groups over the week.
Judges at the Kerala High Court said that despite the petition from the nuns, the case should proceed as a normal criminal case in the hands of the local police.
Last week, PC George, an independent state lawmaker, labelled the nun at the centre of the case “a prostitute” during a widely televised press conference.
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Mr George has since said he regretted his choice of words and put it down to high emotions. Kottayam Superintendent of Police Harishankar, told reporters that the floods in Kerala had caused delays due to manpower shortages.