Kerala govt directs Lalithakala Akademi to review award for cartoon on rape-accused bishop; move may be aimed at placating Church

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s direction to the state-run Lalithakala Academy to review its decision to select a cartoon depicting Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the prime accused in the sensational nun’s rape case, as a rooster for its annual award this year has not raised any eyebrows in Kerala.

The bishop, who headed the Jalandhar diocese, is accused of repeatedly raping a 42-year-old nun serving in a convent under the diocese at Kuravilanad in Kottayam district between 2014 and 2016. Mulakkal, who was arrested by Kerala Police in September last year, is now on bail.

The direction to review the selection of the cartoon for the award came two days after the state committee of the ruling front decided to take a series of measures to regain the faith of believers, who, it believes, had shifted their loyalties to the saffron and Congress camps in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections due to the "misinformation campaign" launched by the two that the Left was against faith.

Church activists have also viewed the transfer of two key officials associated with the investigation in the case days before the commencement of the trial as part of attempt to placate the Church, which was rattled by the police case against Mulakkal.

Both the decisions came on the same day. The direction to seek a review of the selection of the cartoon for the award came after the Church took objection to the decision. The transfer of the investigating officer and the monitoring authority in the rape case came after the court cleared the way for the trial.

 Kerala govt directs Lalithakala Akademi to review award for cartoon on rape-accused bishop; move may be aimed at placating Church

File image of Bishop Franco Mulakkal. ANI

The Joint Church Act Council, which is supporting the nuns in their battle for justice to the rape survivor, feels both the actions were intended to please the Church authority which views the protests against the bishop by a section of the faithful as part of a larger move to destroy the Church.

Curiously, the Church and the faithful had not raised any objection when the cartoon by K Subhash was published in a Malayalam magazine last year. The work, showing the bishop sporting a rooster’s comb amid a few fleeing nuns, was published after Mulakkal was arrested last year.

Father Varghese Vallikkatt, deputy secretary general of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), the apex body of Catholic bishops in Kerala, said that the Church was not against featuring the bishop in the cartoon but concerned about the government body’s decision to honour a work insulting the Christian community.

He wondered whether the LDF government was targeting the Christians after reaching a conclusion that they did not stand by the Left parties during the Lok Sabha polls, in which they won only one of the 20 seats. The LDF had assessed that the consolidation of minorities against the LDF was one of the major reasons for their electoral rout.

Cultural Affairs Minister AK Balan, who belongs to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that heads the LDF, has sought to dispel the doubt by instantly ordering a review of the academy’s decision to select the cartoon for the award on the ground of hurting religious sentiments of believers.

“The government doesn’t question the cartoonist’s right to choose the case involving the bishop as his theme. But we cannot remain silent when it illustrates religious symbols in a condemnable manner. The government will not allow anybody to malign the beliefs of any religion,” the minister said.

The stand on the cartoon is contrary to the LDF policy of supporting the creative freedom of writers and artistes. Last year, the state government had declared open support to an award-winning writer when Hindu organisations led by the Sangh Parivar forced him to withdraw his novel serialised in a vernacular magazine, terming it as an “insult to Hinduism”.

The state government had helped the author, S Hareesh, in publishing the novel entitled “Meesha” as a book later. Cultural leaders feel that the change in the government’s stand may have been prompted by the poll debacle that the Left parties have suffered in the Lok Sabha election.

“I am not surprised by the decision. All political parties in the state have been dancing to the tunes of the communal forces for their political gains. Now they are being dwarfed by these very forces, which are turning into a Frankenstein's monster of sorts,” says Paul Zacharia, a popular Malayalam writer.

He said he did not consider the cartoon on Bishop Mulakkal as a great work of art, but was worried about the precedent being set by the government.

George Joseph, convenor of the Joint Church Act Council, said that the government is blindly supporting the Church authorities under the wrong notion that they have strong sway over the faithful.

“There was a time when the faithful would abide by the decisions of the authorities. The situation has changed with evils creeping into the Church body. This is evident in the nun’s rape case, in which many have come forward to support the nuns and expose sex and corruption scams rocking the Church,” he said.

He said that the government was trying to protect the rape accused bishop from the beginning. “It had not given a free hand to the police to arraign him in the case. The state government gave the nod to arrest the bishop only after the nuns took to the streets,” George pointed out.

The reformist leader said that the government had maintained silence over numerous complaints about threats and intimidation meted out to those who supported the rape survivor, and the witnesses in the case, by the bishop and his supporters.

“The transfer of Deputy Superintendent of Police K Subhash, who is the investigating officer in the case to Idukki and the Kottayam District Superintendent of Police Hari Shankar, who is monitoring the investigation, to Kollam, is intended to torpedo the trial, which is scheduled to commence next month," he said.

George said that the transfer of the investigating officer outside the district will adversely affect the trial since his presence is required in the court all along the trial. He may not be able to handle the case effectively from his present location, he pointed out

“It seems that the LDF government wants exactly this,” he said.

George said that they will fight tooth and nail against all attempts to sabotage the case.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2019 21:47:33 IST