“I have considered quitting my faith,” says Peter Sahota, a member of the Jalandhar diocese, while speaking about the controversial high-profile rape case filed by a nun in Kerala against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal.
The Christian community, on this matter, is divided. While some believe Bishop Mulakkal is innocent, many feel let down, unheard and ashamed of the happenings in their community over the four months.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested on 21 September, almost three months after the complaint was filed on 27 June. A month after his arrest, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, an important witness in the case, was found dead in his room in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district on 22 October.
The Quint traveled to Punjab’s Jalandhar district and met members of the Christian community here who are ‘closely watching the case ever since it was highlighted by the media’. Who do they support, and has their faith taken a hit? We find out.
Divided in Their Support
The community is not only divided about the rape charge against Bishop Mulakkal, but also the death of Father Kuriakose.
Once the rape charges surfaced against Bishop Mulakkal, everyone The Quint met said the felt ashamed. "We think of him as our Dharam Guru (religious head). We were very hurt that someone who preaches The Bible to the young and old alike has been accused of such a terrible thing," Vijay Goria, Chairman of Samson Brigade Christian Youth, told The Quint.
"If found guilty we will come out on streets," said Goria, adding that till then, they will wait. When people from his association meet they often talk about the rape case: "Kya ye bhed ke roop mein bhediya toh nahi (Is he a wolf disguised as a sheep?’), we often ask among ourselves”.
When The Quint asked why there was no protest or movement after Father Kuriakose’s death, the Hoshiarpur police said there were very few Christians in the district.
Now, the population of Jalandhar’s Christians, according to local leaders, is 1.5 lakh. When asked why there was no movement over Father Koriakose’s death, people attributed it to the ‘relatively peaceful nature of the Christians’.
"The Bible teaches us to be peaceful. While we are upset about the rape allegations, police said Father Kuriakose’s death was due to natural causes. We will wait for the post-mortem report to come out," Goria told The Quint.
Goria, however, adds that there were people from the Christian community who distributed sweets when Father Mulakkal was arrested in September. While he seems to be waiting for the investigation to form an opinion, Hamid Masih, Vice President of the Punjab Christian Movement, believes Mulakkal is in the wrong.
“People are scared to speak against the Bishop, but we are not. If our leader is not following the right way of life, how are we to follow his teachings? He is not to be relied upon.Hamid Masih, Vice President of the Punjab Christian Movement
Meanwhile, many Christians believe Father Mulakkal has been wrongfully implicated.
George Soni, who is the head of the Punjab Christian United Front, tells The Quint, "The nun had an agenda against him as the Bishop had initiated disciplinary proceedings against her. We are sure the death of Father Koriakose is a natural one. Bishop Mulakkal is not capable of such things, I know him."
‘Our Voice Is Not Being Heard’
Peter Sahota, member of St Sebastian Catholic Church of the Diocese of Jalandhar, says he is hurt by the rape case and everything around it. He feels his voice is being suppressed.
"I am just one member, they have the power. I want to go out and protest, but I cannot," Sahota tells The Quint. When asked why he said he cannot go against the Church overtly, he said, "We were hoping that those in posts within the Diocese will raise their voice against Bishop Mulakkal, but everyone has decided to remain mum. We have to wait for them to relay a message to us. Until then, we cannot do anything. They have not even officially intimated us of his [Father Koriakose’s] death yet," Sahota said.
Has Their Faith Been Affected?
It is this dilemma that has made Sahota want to absolve himself of his faith.
“In the light of all these embarrassing developments, I have felt disillusioned enough to want to quit my faith. But some leaders from within the Diocese reached out to me and I have decided to wait it out. I hope justice is served.”Peter Sahota, Member of St Sebastian Catholic Church, Diocese of Jalandhar
Vijay Goria, on the other hand, said the Christian community is still going to church like they used to before this controversial case. They are, however, Goria added, closely observing the case and its developments.
"Shradhha logo ki vaisi hi hain. Hum Esa Masih ko humaara sab kuch maante hain. (People's faith remains the same. We consider Jesus Christ our everything). Yes, the Bishop's post is an important spiritual post, but our faith is larger than one person."
Hamid Masih, who is critical of Father Mulakkal, and George Soni, who believes the Bishop has done no wrong, agree on one thing: while this controversial episode has hurt them, their faith remains the same.
One thing that is clear is that the Christian community is closely watching the rape case and the actions of those who are placed in responsible posts. The community is conscious of how it makes them look. While their faith remains largely unaffected, they are waiting for a verdict to call the Bishop out if evidence points towards his guilt.