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A documentary on a past that touches a raw nerve 

A 40-minute documentary has opened up the controversy on migration of Catholic girls from Kerala to Germany that had rocked the Syro-Malabar Church and the Catholic Church in Germany in the 1970s.

The documentary, Ariyapedatha Jeevithangal (The Unknown Lives), made by expatriate writer Jose Punnamparambil, documentary-maker Raju E. Raphael, and media activist and researcher K. Rajagopal is in final stages of production and will be screened in Germany and Kerala in June.

There was a mass recruitment to West Germany from Kerala in the 1960s and 1970s of Malayali Catholic girls, who completed matriculation or were studying in senior secondary classes.

The recruitment was to fill vacancies of nuns in convents in Germany as there was severe shortage of nuns there due to lack of ‘vocation.’

The recruitment began in 1962 and the first batch of girls sailed to Europe from the then Bombay in January 1963. Following this, many more groups of Catholic girls migrated to West Germany and the figure crossed 800 by 1972.

In 1972, European and American newspapers broke the story, terming it “human trafficking.” The allegation was that Kerala Catholic girls were used as ‘slaves’ in German convents and hospitals and forced to work as cleaners and labourers. Reports even alleged that some were forced into prostitution.

The reports shocked the country when Indian national and regional media carried the news.

Churches under cloud

It brought the Syro-Malabar Church and the Catholic Church in Germany under a cloud as bishops of these two countries were involved in the recruitment.

Their initiative was based on the decisions of the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church in 1962. The Second Vatican Council advocated the necessity for the stronger sections of the Church to help the weaker ones.

Fr. Werner Chakkalakkal of the Carmelite of Mary Immaculate congregation was one of the priests in India entrusted with the recruitment while Sister Ludgardis of the congregation of John the Baptist based in Leutesdorf was one of the coordinators in Germany for the recruitment and migration of Kerala girls.

“We joined hands about a year ago as part of a mission to gather information about the controversy. Punnamparambil and I travelled across Germany and visited many convents that received Kerala girls. Not all convents were ready to discuss the issue but some were cooperative. Our aim was to meet, talk, and understand what happened to the Kerala girls brought to the convents,” said Raphael.

“It was not an easy task as most of them were leading a retired life, a few in other parts of the world. But our team managed to meet Sister Ludgardis at a convent near Koblenz,” said Punnamparambil.

About 70 percent of the migrants continued to live in Germany, mostly as nurses, teachers, and caretakers in old-age homes and orphanages and the rest returned to India for missionary and charity works in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. Some had even left for Africa.

The documentary depicts the life of Malayali migrant nuns in Germany and will be a valuable source of information for researchers, said the Thrissur-born Jose Punnamparambil, who had migrated to Germany and bagged the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award for lifetime achievement in literature recently.

The documentary makers also travelled extensively in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra to document the nuns.

(Source: The Hindu)

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