Background of the Case:
In June, 2018, a senior nun, belonging to the order of the Missionaries of Jesus of the Catholic Church, filed an FIR at the Kuravilangad police station that accused Franco Mulakkal, the then bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of the Church, of raping her and subjecting her to unnatural sex 13 times between 2014 and 2016 at the Mission convent in Kuravilangad. It was further alleged by the bishop that the charges against him were ‘fabricated’.
Later in September 2018, a group of nuns close to the victim, launched a hunger-strike in front of the Kerala High Court premises in Kochi demanding the arrest of Mulakkal shortly after the FIR was registered & eventually this turned out to be a success as Mulakkal was brought to Kochi from Jalandhar & arrested. Later in September 2020 the trial began and even though Mulakkal approached the High Court and the Supreme Court to quash the charges against him, the courts refused to entertain the plea.
A slew of charges that included illegal confinement, sexual harassment through abuse of power, unnatural sex, rape and outraging the modesty of a woman were faced by Mulakkal.
After a 105-day-long trial in closed court the verdict came to an end & there were 83 witnesses on the list out of which 39 of them gave testimonies in favour of the prosecution & nine witnesses were paraded by the defence. Indeed as most of them expected the bishop to be convicted, the verdict shocked many across the country.
Reasons for the acquittal of Bishop Franco:
1. The survivor’s ‘uncorroborated inconsistent version’ of the incident was the most vital element of the judgement that favoured Mulakkal. The prosecution at first place, despite listing 83 witnesses of whom 39 were cross-examined in court, was unable to present a ‘sterling witness’ in the case.
2. Secondly, the victim’s credibility was challenged by the defence, accusing her of changing her statements & asking the reasons behind she being silent for so long despite the repeated assaults, also.
3. An accusation was made that the victim had earlier had sexual relations with the husband of her relative which casted aspersions on her credibility and complicated the interpretation of a medical report relating to her hymen being torn.
4. It was noted in this case that it began around two years after the last alleged rape, resulting in a lack of medical & concrete evidence.
5. Further the bishop had sent the victim a number of obscene messages, which she had then saved to her computer but the prosecution was unable to produce the victim’s mobile phone or laptop before the court & this turned out to crucial. Hence there was no evidence to back up these allegations since neither of these devices were produced in court.
Apart from the following reasons some other reasons why the court found the victim’s testimony unreliable were as follows:
· It was recorded by the Court that in her initial revelations, no allegations of rape or sexual violence were raised.
· The victim’s version in a complaint given to the District Police Chief was that an offence was committed under Section 376 of IPC and apart from this no other detail was communicated, the implication being, there were no mention of rape as such.
· There was no history of penetrative sex, was her original version before the doctor and in her additional statement and Section 164.statement her version was that she was subjected to forcible sexual intercourse which included penile penetration on 12 occasions.
· Immediately following the alleged sexual violence the series of e-mails, photographs and visuals produced as evidence show that she kept close interactions with the accused.
· The accused never came over to the convent after the victim told the accused that she wouldn’t permit him to, is what given in the survivor’s testimony.
· The statements given by her inmates and Mother Superior proved that they had faced some demands before the church & that they were ready to settle all issues if their demands were met and the complaint carrying rape allegations was filed after their demand was rejected.
These inconsistent versions questioned the victim’s credibility and the Court stated that this is a case in which both the grain & chaff are inextricably mixed up and it is impossible to separate the grain from the chaff. Further it also stated that there are exaggerations and embellishments in the version of the victim and that she has made very attempt to hide certain facts.
It is noteworthy that in an interview given by a fellow nun—Sister Anupama had ended up helping the defence make its case. This was revealed by C.S. Ajayan, one of his lawyers, who was fighting for justice for the victim. It was reportedly said by Sister Anupama that until the FIR had been filed against Bishop Franco, she had been unaware of the sexual abuse which made the defence team, including counsel B. Ramanpillai, a celebrated criminal lawyer in Kerala, to cast doubt on the victim’s accusations, and they argued that it was strange that the victim had not disclosed the ordeal she was suffering to an intimate friend and fellow nun. Along with this strange fact there was an another argument that was raised by the defence that the victim had continued to maintain close contact with the accused, for instance travelling with him to a function at Kalady, around 57 kilometres away from her convent. Hence not just because of the sensation nature, but also for the many twists and turns this case shall go down in the annals of India’s legal history.
This article is written by Ruel Correia of Amity University.