Kerala women’s panel freezes move on nuns

via VR Jayaraj | Thiruvananthapuram- Daily Pioneer published on June 11, 2008

Faced with stiff opposition from the powerful Christian Church and Opposition parties, including the Congress, the Kerala State Commission for Women, nominated by the CPI(M)-led LDF regime, has decided to put in cold storage its recommendation for a law to impose restrictions on girls becoming nuns in Christian convents.

The commission decided on Wednesday to submit its recommendation for a law to ensure that girls below the age of 18 were not made nuns and for other controls only after elaborate studies in the context of the widespread protests and the CPM’s official announcement that it was not interested in the issue. CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday told newspersons that girls becoming nuns in convents was an issue of the Christian religion and the Marxist party had nothing to do with it.

The Women’s Commission had taken the decision on June 3 while acting upon a complaint. Suggesting a law for ensuring a higher age limit for girls to become nuns, the panel had also said that parents who forced their children to become nuns before the age of 18 should be punishable under law. It also wanted a portion of ancestral property to be registered in the name of the nun and a scheme for rehabilitation of nuns if they quit convents. The Church had seen all this as an infringement on its religious rights.

The decision taken by the commission, headed by chairperson Justice D Sreedevi, or the recommendation for law on nuns had become a huge controversy after various leaders and priests aired strong objections to it, saying the Church had its own stringent laws regarding induction of nuns and their life. The Church had interpreted the decision of the commission as part of a conspiracy to defame and destroy it.

The Congress demanded the resignation of commission chairperson Justice Sreedevi, who had admitted that the panel had not conducted any studies before deciding to recommend the revolutionary law. State Congress president Ramesh Chennithala said the commission’s move was a continuation of the programme designed by the CPM to restrict the constitutional rights and freedom of religious minorities.

Sources said the commission’s decision to impose a freeze on its move was the direct result of the CPM’s not looking interested in it. The new controversy is detrimental to the interests of the CPM, which has already been facing opposition on various fronts from the Church, in the context of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The CPM State secretary said the party had nothing to do with nuns or the commission’s recommendation. He said no discussions had taken place in the party on the matter. The CPM is already facing the Church’s ire on several issues.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference said the commission’s decision was “an accident” which occurred due to its ignorance. The Church had earlier clarified that its canon laws had prescribed the minimum age for girls for being appointed nuns as 18 years. It had also clarified that no girl could be made a nun unless she chose the path herself.

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