Pope admits nuns face abuse, same-sex rape by woman, naming of suspects

The 7 February edition of Note This — our round-up of media reports and opinions on sexual assault

Pope Francis on Tuesday acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by the Catholic clergy. The issue has gained prominence in India due to the Kerala priest rape case. Photo: Malacañang Photo Bureau/Wikimedia Commons

The acknowledgement by Pope Francis that there has been sexual abuse of nuns by priests in the Catholic church has been covered widely in the Indian media. Most stories linked the Pope’s statement to the case of former Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal, who has been accused of raping a nun, but who continues to receive the backing of the church in India.

Editor’s pick

There are frequent reports on sexual violence in the Indian media, but most stories “sink without a trace, with no follow-ups”. In ‘The anatomy of a high-profile rape case’, NewsTracker’s Karuna Banerjee analyses the exceptions to this norm to unpack what sets them apart from other stories.

Across India: news since Monday

Pope Francis has said that the Catholic church “must do more” about the sexual exploitation of nuns by members of the clergy, but in Kerala the nuns who have banded against rape-accused priest Franco Mulakkal have said they are being “persecuted” and “tortured”. Their ordeals, including an attempt by their congregation to relocate five nuns away from the survivor, have been closely documented by the media.

On Wednesday, the National Commission for Women has written to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, requesting his “personal intervention into the matter to ensure safety of the complainants, victim (of the case under trial) and the fellow nuns”. Earlier this week, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) issued guidelines to church personnel to enforce a policy of “zero tolerance towards sexual assault”. The guidelines “specifically recommend defrocking of a priest or member of clergy if found guilty of sexual offences”, reported the Indian Express.

Reimagining sexual assault

A few unusual cases and developments this week illustrate that sexual assault can take multiple forms.

In Delhi, a 19-year-old woman was arrested under Section 377 for allegedly sexually assaulting another woman with a sex toy. It is the first such case on record since the Supreme Court decriminalised consensual same-sex relations in September last year. According to News18, the police refused to file a case under Section 377 in October stating that the law had no provision for same-sex rape involving women.

In Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, a woman has alleged that she was repeatedly raped by her father-in-law and brother-in-law under the pretext of nikah halala — a practice in which a woman must have intercourse with another man if she is to reconcile with her husband after divorce. The complainant said that her husband divorced her twice, agreeing to reconcile with her only after she underwent halala with his relatives.

The government of Maharashtra has said that the practice of making a woman undergo a “virginity test” is a form of sexual assault, and will soon be treated as a punishable offence. The announcement came following a campaign by a Whatsapp group against against the practice, reported the Indian Express. Virginity tests are known to take place in the Kanjarbhat community and have been termed by the National Commission for Women as “regressive, misogynistic and in violation of basic human rights and dignity”.

In the courts

In Chhatarpur district, MP, a 25-year-old man has been sentenced to death for the rape and subsequent death of a 75-year-old woman. Last year, incidentally, 162 death penalty verdicts were awarded by trial courts — the highest number in two decades — primarily for cases involving sexual violence and murder.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court has accepted a petition that the name of a suspect in a sexual assault case should not be published prior to conviction. The public interest litigation (PIL) claimed that it is “gender discriminatory” to protect only the identity of a woman victim. The high court has issued notices to the central and state governments on the matter.

Last week, MP schoolteacher Mahendra Singh Gond was given his date of execution in early March for the rape of a four-year-old on June 30. His trial took only three months. This is one of several widely reported rape cases from MP that involved a speedy trial and conviction. The Times of India spoke to three public prosecutors from the state for their views on the factors that enable the “quick disposal of rape cases”.

Assault of minors

A 6-year-old child in Chhattisgarh took it upon herself to teach her younger sibling what she had learned about “good touch and bad touch” at a school awareness programme. To her parents’ horror, she described “bad touch” as something that “uncle does to me”. The parents contacted the police who arrested a clerk at the school; he confessed to sexually assaulting the child multiple times.

A 21-year-old man was arrested in Delhi for attempting to rape a one-year-old girl whose family he worked for her. He had bound and gagged the toddler and was attempting to sexually assault the child when her family members caught him in the act.

#MeToo

“Sexist remarks” about #MeToo made by actor and politician Shatrughan Sinha have been reported across the Indian media. Expressing relief that his name had not come up in the #MeToo movement, he “joked” that “behind the troubles and infamy of successful men, there have been mostly women”.

Read more

This roundup is curated from the RSS feeds of more than 30 English news publications from across India.

See a fuller list of rape and sexual violence cases reported today, and earlier this week.

Use our case filter to read reports on specific cases: #MeToo, #KeralaPriest, #RapeOfMinors, #Muzaffarapur, #PoliticsOfRape (use the dropdown menu in column A).

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