Bishop Franco Mulakkal case mirrors trajectory of #MeToo movement, how backlash has impacted survivors
In cases like that of Bishop Franco Mulakkal and many men named in the #MeToo movement, the all-powerful male professional network kicked in months after the allegations were made public, and the women who were courageous enough to speak up lost jobs and assignments. It has now reached a stage where the survivors who complain against the powerful are vilified and the accused are ironically projected as victims.
What the nun in the Bishop Franco Mulakkal case faced follows the same pattern as what happened to the more well-known public figures in the MeToo movement.
In many cases, the all-powerful male professional network kicked in months after the allegations are made, and the women who were courageous enough to speak up lost jobs and assignments.
It has now reached a stage where the survivors who complain against the powerful are vilified and the accused are ironically projected as victims.
The case of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, which was reported on in great — and often salacious detail — in the mainstream media a year ago, has practically disappeared from view today. Some buzz was expected on 11 November, the day when the Bishop was to go on trial; the case has now been adjourned to 30 November. Media attention given to the case remained limited in the recent past, since there were other “pressing” political issues taking place at the same time. The #MeToo movement, which has gradually lost steam, features low on the priority list.
In a sense, the case of the bishop and the nun actually epitomises both the #MeToo movement and its backlash. Many of the journalists, actors and other women who steered this movement with so much hope and courage last year were well-known public figures. But the nun who complained against the bishop was not. She was anonymous and continues to be so, even today. Yet what she has faced follows the same pattern as what happened to the more well-known public figures.
The survivor nun had nothing to gain and everything to lose when she outed the powerful bishop who allegedly raped her. In June last year, she accused the bishop of raping her multiple times over a period of two years between 2014 and 2016. She was supported by several other nuns, who also accused him of sexual misconduct. There were major rallies in support of the nuns, but what accompanied this were the beginnings of backlash.
As the weeks rolled by, it took unique courage for her to steadfastly stand by what she said. She lost her hard-won standing in the convent and faced threats and slander. She and the nuns who supported her were repeatedly punished and rejected by the very institution to which they dedicated their lives. This was in spite of the fact that the sexual harassment took place inside the convent where they lived and worked. The bishop, on the other hand, continued to enjoy the support of his followers, just like the editors, music directors and others who were named in allegations. The church too, seemed to be covertly supporting him.
The tide turned against the nun when the convent to which she and the other nuns belonged turned against them. The congregation of the Missionaries of Jesus even publicly released a picture of the survivor nun seated next to her alleged perpetrator. The picture carried a date which indicated it was taken after the alleged series of rapes. This photograph, which revealed her face, was in direct violation of the rape prevention law. In light of this, her brother went to court, but the damage had already been done and the Internet trolls got to work. “Why did she take so long to report the rape?” “It must have been consensual.” “She was actually friendly with him.” “She seems relaxed in the picture.” There was no consideration for how a survivor of sexual violence may take time to process what has happened to her and gather courage to out a powerful person.
As the weeks and months roll by, the sequence of events has become frighteningly familiar. One brave woman outs a powerful male predator. Others follow. Often, the women who publicly report their trauma are women with professional standing and credibility. Initially they get support, especially from female colleagues. A few male colleagues, relatives and friends also stand up for them. But the all-powerful male professional network kicks in soon. The men at the helm close ranks, and the women who were courageous enough to speak up lose jobs and assignments.
The women’s career graphs come plummeting down. Their own workplaces/employers stop supporting them for fear of repercussions from the powerful men who have been outed. Chinmayi and Sruthi Hariharan are among the countless women who reached career peaks and are now unable to get assignments. Meanwhile, these women are trolled on social media (amid growing speculation and gossip) and defamation cases become par for the course.
In the Bishop Mulakkal case, the survivor nun wrote to the State Women’s Commission in October, complaining against Christian Times, a Malayalam YouTube channel, saying that it has been harassing her and the nuns who supported her. Christian Times has 52,000 subscribers and features mostly religious videos. But of late, a number of videos “investigating” the Mulakkal case have surfaced on the channel, titled ‘Bishop Franco Mulakkal Nun Fraud Case’. The survivor nun lodged a complaint with the Kuravilangad Police Station in Kottayam. But according to her, Christian Times has been posting more videos and articles undeterred, maligning not just her but also the nuns who supported her. Her appeals to the authorities for justice have fallen on deaf years. Even the Pope, who has spoken out several times against sexual harassment within the church, has remained unresponsive to her appeals to him for help.
In fact, one of the nuns Sister Lucy Kalappura was dismissed from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation in August this year for several acts of “disobedience” which included supporting the survivor nun, buying a car with her savings and publishing a book of poems. In this case, the community's superior general Sister Ann Joseph was the one who took action against her, saying that Sister Lucy “did not show the needed remorse” and had failed to give a satisfactory explanation for her lifestyle.
So perhaps it’s not so surprising to find that many of the #MeToo accused outside the church also have their female supporters. Some of the high-profile men who were accused have got married after the dust settled, others have entered into new relationships.
As it invariably happens, the wheel has turned full circle. It has now reached a stage where the survivors who complain against the powerful are vilified and the accused are ironically projected as victims. Here too, there is a pattern. Initially the famous or powerful man accused of sexual harassment is sidelined in response to public opprobrium. But once the focus shifts slightly, he is reinstated and projected as a victim who was falsely framed.
Women across the country are beginning to realise they need strong stomachs as well as bank balances to fight the ensuing defamation cases and withstand the onslaught of the patriarchal nexus which springs into action to defend predators, even when there is strong evidence against them.