A day after the National Council for Women (NCW) had sent the findings of its report to the Prime Minister, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and the police chiefs of Kerala and Punjab, a bishop’s body from Kerala has petitioned PM Modi. The petition issued by the bishop’s body urges the central government not to take action as is desired by the recommendations sent from the NCW. Union Ministerof State for Electronics and IT, Alphons Kannanthanam, who himself hails from Kerala and is a Christian too strongly opposed the recommendations put forth by the NCW. The Union Minister from Kerala said that the PM Modi led central government would never interfere in the religious beliefs of the people. While president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said in a press conference, “It was shocking not only for the Christian community but also to everyone who stands for the freedom of religion.”
Archbishop Pakiam went on to add that the NCW had “abused” its powers by submitting a “one-sided” report to the Centre. Another letter similar in nature and content was issued by the Kerala bishop’s body to George Kurian, Member Secretary of National Commission for Minorities. Reportedly, it was Kurian who had forwarded the letter to PM Modi and the Home Minister.
The demand from the NCW came in the backdrop of the latest incident from Kerala where a woman and her husband had filed a blackmail and rape case against four priests of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. The woman and her husband both belonged to the same diocese and the priests had used her confessions to blackmail the woman into having sex with him and his colleagues. In a separate incident, which again happened in Kottayam district of Kerala, a nun had alleged that a Bishop belonging to the Jalandhar diocese had raped her and had unnatural sex with her multiple times over a period of three years. The NCW had constituted an inquiry committee to look into the alleged sexual assaults against women in churches from Kerala
It was surprising to hear Union Minister Kannanthanam speak in such strong language against the recommendations of the NCW, even after he knew about the numerous cases which have emanated from the church in the recent past from Kerala. His Facebook post regarding this matter read, “It is not the official stand of the government. The Union Government has no connection with the stand taken by the NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma. It is a personal opinion of Rekha Sharma.” While everyone fully understands that the NCW recommendations have been expressed by the NCW chairperson, it is surprising how the Union Minister forgot to understand the significance of the move. Confessions done to male priests are being used as a weapon against the women of the church diocese. It would be great for women safety if the central government takes some actions in this regard. One can only hope that the opinions expressed by Kannanthanam are his own and not of the central government as a lot needs to be done in this regard.