By Matters India Reporter
Kochi, April 11, 2029: A Catholic nun has apparently become the first person in India to receive protection under a new scheme to ensure security of witnesses in sensitive court cases.
The District Judge of Kottayam on April 9 ordered protection for Sister Lissy Vadakkel, a key witness in the nun rape case involving a Catholic bishop.
The 63-year-old member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation is categorized as a “Group A” witness, who is considered most vulnerable and risky. A person is categorized as “Category A” if ‘threat extends to the life of witness or his family members and their normal way of living is affected for a substantial period, during investigation/trial or even thereafter.”
The court direction came the same day the Kerala police charged Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar of raping the former superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, a confidant of Sister Vadakkel.
The Clarist nun had met the police team that investigated the rape case without the knowledge of her superiors.
Sister Vadakkel approached the court on March 25 amid pressure from her superiors to join the provincial house community at Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, some 1,075 km northeast of Muvattupuzha where she currently lives.
Shaiju Antony, joint convener of the Save Our Sisters Action Council, an umbrella organization of church reformation groups, noted that Sister Vadakkel was first person in Kerala to use the Witness Protection Scheme of 2018.
The scheme was formulated jointly by the National Legal Service Authority and the Bureau of Police Research and Development and the Supreme Court sanctioned it on December 5, 2018.
Father Augustine Vattoly, former convener of the Save Our Sisters, says the order in favor of Sister Vadakkel is the first order in the country under the scheme.
The apex court judgment came on a petition filed by witnesses in the rape cases against Asaram Bapu, a Hindu religious leader. It asked the federal and state governments to enact a suitable legislation on that issue.
The Kottayam court has directed the state to accommodate Sister Vadakkel in a private institution at Aarppookara near Kottayam, managed by a Christian woman.
The court, however, allowed Sister Vadakkel to stay at her current residence in Muvattupuzha until another, safer location is allotted.
The Judge also ordered the state government to study whether there was a requirement to transfer Sister Vadakkel to another safe location.
In 2015, the nun, who accused Franco of raping her multiple times, shared her ordeals with Sister Vadakkel. Finally, in February 2019, Sister Lissy gave a statement against Bishop Mulakkal. Since then, she alleged, she has been facing coercion from the higher-ups in her congregation.
In March, the congregation had sent an ultimatum to Sister Vadakkel, asking her to report to the congregation headquarters in Vijayawada. Sister Alphonsa Abraham, the provincial superior of the congregation, asked her to reach the congregation headquarters by March 31.
The court also granted police guard for Sister Vadakkel.