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Nun Rape Case: Survivor, Kerala Govt File Appeal Against Bishop's Acquittal

On Wednesday, the Kerala government approved the move to file an appeal in the high court.

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Nun Rape Case: Survivor, Kerala Govt File Appeal Against Bishop's Acquittal
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The survivor in the nun rape case and the state government have approached the Kerala High Court, seeking to quash the Kottayam Additional District and Sessions Court order that acquitted Bishop Franco Mulakkal.

Mulakkal, the former Bishop of Jalandhar, was accused of raping a nun from the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kuravilangad. The survivor alleged that Mulakkal had raped her multiple times between 2014 and 2016.

On Wednesday, 30 March, the Kerala government approved the move to file an appeal in the high court against the trial court verdict acquitting Mulakkal.

In January, the Additional District and Sessions Court in Kottayam had acquitted Mulakkal in the case after it found the survivor's testimony 'unreliable'.

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What Did the State Say in Its Appeal?

The survivor's advocate S Sreekumar had filed an appeal against the acquittal of Franco on 28 March, reported The News Minute.

The state government said in its appeal that the evidence given by the survivor was corroborated by the deposition of several witnesses. This, together with the documentary evidence, proved that the nun was subjected to unnatural offence and rape by Franco.

In its appeal, the Kerala government also pointed out that Franco, the former head of the Latin Catholic diocese of Jalandhar, wielded power and control over St Francis Mission Home, Kuravilangad, where the nun was serving as Mother Superior, reported The New Indian Express.

The appeal also argued that without examining the evidence cited by the prosecution, the trial judge approached the case with a predetermined mind to acquit Franco. The court wrongly considered the evidence and tried to discredit the survivor in every possible way, the appeal stated.

The court should have considered that when a nun is subjected to rape, the social stigma that she might face will be higher than an ordinary person. It should have considered that she observed self-restraint and spoke out about the incident only after she decided to fight a legal battle after considering the repercussions she would face for her entire life. Hence she cannot be characterized as an unreliable witness or inconsistent, the appeal stated, according to The Indian New Express.

It also said that the court should have considered that the survivor nun chose to altogether leave the congregation instead of putting up a fight with the superior, church, or the bishop.

Court Cleared Franco of Rape Charges

Franco, was on 14 January 2022, was acquitted of rape charges by a lower court in Kerala's Kottayam. The verdict was delivered by Additional Sessions Judge G Gopakumar.

The 44-year-old survivor, who belongs to the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kuravilangad, Kottayam, had alleged that Franco, while serving as the Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese, had raped her 13 times, during his visits to the convent between 2014 and 2016.

"Victim's inconsistent version of incidents and lack of corroborative evidence to prove the prosecution's case" were some of the reasons cited by the court to substantiate its verdict.

Following the verdict, Kottayam SP Harishankar, who led the probe, had told news agency ANI, "We were expecting the accused to be punished. We've already decided to hold a meeting of the probe and prosecution team and we will be moving for appeal." He had also said that his acquittal was against sexual assault jurisprudence. Special public prosecutor Jithesh Babu had said soon after the verdict that it would be challenged.

Mulakkal' s lawyer CS Ajayan, meanwhile, told ANI: "Prosecution miserably failed to prove their case. During cross-examination, their evidence proved to be false, not even a convincing medical certificate was produced by the prosecution."

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Background

The trial in the case began in November 2019 and was finally completed on 10 January 2022.

The allegations became public for the first time in July 2018 when a collective called 'Save Our Sisters' had launched public protests, demanding Franco's arrest.

On 21 September 2018, following sustained protests by five nuns from the congregation, the Bishop was finally arrested on charges of rape. He was granted bail on 16 October 2018, but his bail was revoked on 13 July 2020, after he failed to turn up for a slew of hearings.

(With inputs from The New Indian Express and The News Minute.)

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