Why Kerala Police dragged their feet on Bishop Franco’s arrest

The policy of appeasement and vote-bank politics applies equally to all political parties. Even the Marxists.

 |  6-minute read |   24-09-2018
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The Kerala Police arrested Bishop Franco Mulakkal almost three months after an FIR was registered. They tried to justify their unhurried approach on the matter — but it hasn’t washed with anyone.

It seemed the cops were under pressure from their political “masters” to adopt an easy-going and cautious approach, lest they somehow offend the powerful Christian vote bank in the state. While the Communists have had a history of run-ins with the Catholic Church in times gone by, things stand completely different today. With the emergence of the BJP as a third pole, the Marxists are now engaged in the active pursuit of the Syrian-Christian vote to make up for their shifting vote banks.

franco_092418054106.jpgJustice deliberately delayed: Kerala Police arrested Bishop Franco Mulakkal almost three months after an FIR was registered. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)

The police did not seem to be in any hurry to even interrogate the Bishop, let alone arrest him or conduct his medical check-up forthwith, as mandated in such cases. Further, they were in violation of the law by dragging the investigation for so long. It took five of the fellow nuns to stage a public protest from September 9, for the police to swing into action and serve a notice to the Bishop.

I spoke with lawyer TB Mini who asked, “The criminal law amendment of April 2018 says investigation into rape cases be completed within two months. Why did the police take nearly three months to arrest Bishop Franco when they were convinced about the case prima facie?”

Does the CPI(M) stand with the victim — or with the perpetrator?

Adding insult to injury, the CPI(M) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan attacked the nuns a couple of days ago by calling their protests “ill-motivated”.

“There's an ulterior motive behind the agitation,” Kodiyeri said, adding, “It was part of a political campaign against the government.” Although Balakrishnan has subsequently backpedalled on his statement, following a huge backlash, the Marxist State Secretary’s statement betrayed his party’s perspective on the nuns’ protest.

kodayeri_092418054241.jpgCPI(M) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan attacked the nuns by calling their protests “ill-motivated”. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)

Politburo member MA Baby tried to engage in damage control by claiming that the police would have arrested the Bishop even if the nuns hadn’t hit the streets. It also needs to be recalled here that the CPI(M) is battling allegations of shielding their own MLA accused of sexual harassment. It took the intervention of Sitaram Yechury and relentless media focus for the party to take cognisance of the complaint against PK Sasi.

Recently, there was another instance of the Marxist party standing with oppressors. On June 29, the CPI(M) State Secretariat released a statement defending the clearly misogynistic Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) following the hullabaloo over actor Dileep’s re-induction into the association. Curiously, a part in the CPI(M)’s statement went like this: “While this controversy has been raging, a campaign from vested groups to try and weaken and divide AMMA cannot be aimed at women’s safety”.

What is the CPI(M)’s vested interest in protecting the unity and integrity of AMMA?

Likewise, why did the party sit on a complaint by their woman comrade against their MLA for three weeks? And now, why is the Marxist party secretary trying to defend the Church, instead of applauding the brave nuns?

Despite their overt claims of progressiveness and gender equality, the CPI(M) is just as patriarchal and regressive as any other party. However, when it comes to sheer hypocrisy and doublespeak, they beat everyone else hands down.

pk-sasi_092418054429.jpgSaving one of its own? CPI(M) leader PK Sasi too has been accused of sexual misconduct. (Photo: The Indian Express)

There is another element to Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s statement.

And that is to do with the victimhood complex of the Marxists, often bordering on the absurd. The CPI(M) has always found it convenient to blame the media and everyone else whenever things went wrong.

Of late, their statements speak of anarchists, Maoists and other fringe elements. Balakrishnan’s statement on the protests getting hijacked reeks of sheer insecurity and low tolerance for any kind of criticism.

Balakrishnan reiterated his stand in the party mouthpiece Deshabhimani in an article titled "Bishop caseum stree suraksha nayavum" (The case of the Bishop and women’s safety policy).

While he did not blame the nuns directly here, the conspiracy theory of the protests being “hijacked by vested interests to further their vendetta against the Marxist party and the LDF government” was repeated. What Balakrishnan fails to understand is that the protests could have been preempted, had the law of the land been upheld by the police in a time-bound manner.

The Church and the State

It has to be noted here that neither the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), nor the BJP expressed solidarity with the nuns. The policy of appeasement and vote-bank politics applies equally to all political parties. Some leaders did turn up at the protest site in their individual capacities, but prominent leaders kept away and even refused to comment on the issue.

Returning to Bishop Franco — why did the Kerala Police give such a long rope to Bishop Franco?

Speaking to me, lawyer Asha Unnithan noted: “In rape cases, a 164 statement of the victim and medical report is sufficient to arrest the accused. It is astonishing that the police dithered for almost three months to arrest the accused. It is not as if they have to submit the chargesheet immediately upon the arrest.”

By delaying the arrest for close to three months, the police evidently provided Bishop Franco every opportunity to cover his tracks and eliminate vital clues. It provided the accused with an opportunity to try and influence the complainant and the witnesses — in fact, it took the presence of mind of a fellow nun to record a phone conversation she had with a priest offering money and land to bring this to light.

justice_092418054656.jpgThe nuns have declared that they would remain vigilant of any foul play, till the Bishop is held guilty by the Court. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)

Furthermore, it took three days of interrogation for the police to decide on an arrest. Even after the investigation team took a call on the arrest by the third afternoon, they had to wait for another six hours to proceed with it. It is rumoured that they were waiting for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s approval from the US.

On a visit to Vanchi Square at the protest site of the nuns, some of the protestors shared their theory in the delaying of Bishop Franco’s arrest with me: “What if Franco proves he is impotent in the medical test? What if the police delayed the arrest only on account of the fact that they would then be bound to conduct his medical? What if the Bishop was under medication for three months?”

Although it might sound like a conspiracy theory, it is certainly in the realm of possibility.

Just as the nuns declared they would remain vigilant till the Bishop is held guilty by the Court, it would require the media and civil society to track the case very closely to ensure there is no foul play.

Also Read: Kerala nun rape case: A moment of reckoning for the Church in India

Writer

Anand Kochukudy Anand Kochukudy @anandkochukudy

The writer is a political journalist and lapsed academic.

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