‘Not about re­li­gion, but gen­der jus­tice’

Si­lence is not golden, say sup­port­ers of com­plainant nun, urg­ing those that be­lieve to stand up for her

Mid Day - - CITY - HEMAL ASHAR hemal@mid-day.com

PUTTING fire into a Fri­day af­ter­noon, sec­u­lar or­gan­i­sa­tions and com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tives spoke out at a con­fer­ence in sol­i­dar­ity with the sur­vivor nun. The con­fer­ence was held at Mum­bai Marathi Pa­trakar Sangh at Azad Maidan. The speak­ers took aim at the slow ac­tion against Ja­land­har bishop Franco Mu­lakkal. A Ker­ala nun has ac­cused him of rap­ing her, say­ing she was sex­u­ally abused 13 times be­tween 2014 and 2016.

‘We are ashamed’

The speak­ers, though, first took aim at them­selves, say­ing that they apol­o­gised for be­ing slow to speak out and stand up for the sur­vivor. They also said that it was a time to hang their heads in shame at the ac­cu­sa­tions, but more so at the si­lence of those whom the nun had com­plained to.

Voice for voice­less

Speaker Dol­phy D’Souza, for­mer na­tional vice-pres­i­dent of the All In­dia Catholics Union, said, “We have gath­ered here to give voice to the voice­less, we stand on the side of the sup­pressed.”

D’Souza said, un­der­lin­ing the over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage that this was about gen­der jus­tice, “The sur­vivor is a woman first and a nun later,” and slammed as “dis­gust­ing” the in­de­pen­dent MLA PC Ge­orge’s state­ment when he called the nun a “pros­ti­tute”.

Get no help

Pow­er­ful and evoca­tive, Sis­ter Noella D’Souza said, “Si­lence from the Church does not give much re­lief from the cur­rent over­heated at­mos­phere. It is a dis­con­cert­ing feel­ing when the Church, which is your fam­ily, is ap­proached and you re­ceive no help. As a woman, I have seen a dif­fer­ent face of the Church, the one I love and serve, when one dares to dis­agree or ques­tion the pow­ers that be. In this case, we can­not let our sis­ters be sup­pressed. We have to up the pres­sure, we weep with those who weep and are em­bold­ened by the words of Je­sus Christ who said: I am with you.”

Chal­lenge the or­der

No. of times the nun has ac­cused the bishop of rap­ing her For Noor­je­han Safia Niyaz of the Bharatiya Mus­lim Mahila An­dolan (BMMA), the nun’s case and the re­sponse from some (si­lence, con­spir­acy the­o­ries, and threats) res­onated deeply. Noor­je­han said that, “There are many who be­lieve that women have no right to ques­tion mul­lahs/ pan­dits/the clergy who think they are the ul­ti­mate cus­to­di­ans of a re­li­gion. Well, women have started ques­tion­ing. They can­not take us for granted any longer.” Noor­je­han gave the ex­am­ple of the ‘Haji Ali Sabke Liye’ and Shani Shing­na­pur move­ments, where women won the right to en­ter places of wor­ship, as an ex­am­ple of how women are chal­leng­ing the pa­tri­ar­chal or­der, and said that of­ten women were asked to choose be­tween their faith and be­ing a cit­i­zen of this coun­try. “We are both, women of our faith and In­di­ans,” said Noor­je­han.

Crimes against women

Ac­tivist Ravi Bhi­lane, part of a non-profit called Lokanche Dost, slammed the all-time high in crimes against women un­der the cur­rent BJP rule. “Peo­ple say that there were crimes against women dur­ing the Congress rule too. Yet, we did not see sup­port­ers of crim­i­nals walk­ing with the tri­colour then,” claimed Bhi­lane, re­fer­ring to the Un­nao and Kathua cases, even as ac­tivist Firoze Mithi­bor­wala said, “The space for so­cial re­form should be within com­mu­ni­ties.”

Do not iso­late

Pro­fes­sor Brinelle D’Souza of the Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences said, “We should also be con­cerned for the five sis­ters of the com­plainant’s con­gre­ga­tion who have stuck by her. They are also be­ing at­tacked and are be­ing shamed for their as­so­ci­a­tion with her. The nun’s let­ters show what a per­sonal, lonely bat­tle it has been so far. Iso­lat­ing the com­plainant means go­ing against the teach­ings of Christ.”

The speak­ers had sev­eral de­mands, the first of which was that the ac­cused im­me­di­ately step down as Bishop of Ja­land­har and Pa­tron of the Con­gre­ga­tion for the du­ra­tion of the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

They were adamant that this was go­ing to be a long fight where peo­ple needed to speak out, and this was not a time or place for fence-sit­ters. They rounded off, “The dark­est places in hell are re­served for those who main­tain their neu­tral­ity in times of moral cri­sis.”

PIC/HEMAL ASHAR

Ravi Bhi­lane, Firoze Mithi­bor­wala, Brinelle D’Souza, Dol­phy D’Souza, Sis­ter Noella D’Souza and Noor­je­han Safia Niyaz at the con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

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