A group of nuns in one of India’s oldest Catholic communities is calling for the arrest of a bishop who has been accused of raping one of the church’s sisters multiple times over a two-year period.
The case in the southern state of Kerala has attracted international attention, as it is extremely rare for nuns to publicly accuse a superior of wrongdoing, let alone sexual assault.
Five nuns have been protesting outside the Kerala High Court, which is hearing the case, calling for Bishop Franco Mulakkal to be arrested and the investigation to be expedited.
More than 100 citizens have come to support them since the demonstration started on Saturday, according to George Joseph, the president of the Joint Christian Council, an advocacy organization working with the nuns.
Unlike the rest of India, where Christianity remains a minority religion practiced by just 2.3% of the total population, Kerala is home to a sizable Christian community that dates back hundreds of years.
According to recent government figures, the southern state is home to more than 6 million Christians, or 19% of the total population.
The 44-year-old victim first filed a police report in June in Kochi in Kerala, accusing the bishop of raping her 13 times from 2014 and 2016. The incidents purportedly occurred in a guest house of the St. Francis Mission Home in Kerala.
CNN reported that Mulakkal, the bishop of Jalandhar, a city in India’s northern Punjab state, denies the allegations, according to his lawyer, his client believes the nun made up the story because she had been accused of having an affair with another man.
The Diocese of Jalandhar said the bishop was a frequent visitor to Kerala for church-related events.
“It is a fake allegation. We are all with the bishop,” Father Peter Kavumpuram, a spokesperson for the diocese said on Tuesday. “We are very clear regarding the conspiracy behind this. Nuns are parading outside when the investigation is going on. There is an anti-Christian movement, people are trying to manipulate the truth,” he said.
Mulakkal has not been charged but authorities say they are investigating the case.
The Joint Christian Council believes police are deliberately slow tracking the investigation, and are under pressure from church leaders and politicians in the state government to drop it.