Sex, lies and the cloister

published on March 8, 2009

By Sandeep B

Sister Jesme’s Amen: An Autobiography of a Nun points
to the larger issue of the might of the church in India. This might is
manifested in the church’s ability to evade inquiry and escape

Cut to March 2008 when Swami Amritha Chaithanya
alias Santosh Madhavan was arrested near Kochi. The police recovered
porn CDs, tiger skins, and foreign liquor from his ashram. This
was sensational news because Santosh was wanted by no less than the
Interpol. A leading Malayalam weekly was lauded for its determined hunt
in uncovering the disgraced godman’s true colours.

Cut further
back to March 27, 1992 when a 19-year-old nun, Sister Abhaya was found
drowned in a well at the St Pius convent in Kottayam. The case that was
buried as a suicide resurfaced when the CBI in 2008 reported that it
was actually a case of rape and murder by a padre.

Cut even
further back to about three decades when in the Madatharuvi case, a
Christian priest was accused of murdering his ‘girlfriend’.

is where time starts blurring because these horrid chronicles are too
numerous to track. The Christian Divine Retreat Centre is home to about
975 mysterious deaths from 1996 to 2006. Torture, psychedelic drugs,
rapes, murders, and quick disposal of bodies, are some associated
charges in this divine episode.

Now for some comparative
consequences: Santosh Madhavan was quickly arrested and remanded to
police custody, and now faces prosecution. The said weekly was
congratulated for exposing yet another fraudulent Hindu godman. In
direct contrast, not one person in the protracted annals of
church-related crimes has been convicted till date.

Sister Jesme’s explosive new book, Amen: An Autobiography of a Nun,
is merely a footnote in the vast corpus of the real, but untold horror
stories that are routinely enacted inside the cloistered walls of
churches worldwide. The book is currently available only in Malayalam.
An English translation is expected soon. The fact that Sister Jesme
waited to write this book till she quit as principal of a Catholic
college in Thrissur speaks eloquently about the murky happenings in the

The book recounts the alleged horrors that nuns
undergo behind the closed, high-walls of churches and convents,
complete with first-person accounts of sexual predation, lesbianism,
homosexuality, threats, violence, and sometimes murder. Sister Jesme’s
media statement is quote-worthy: “When a woman is molested, sexually
harassed, will she speak out? Only one out of a thousand will speak
out. So think of nuns! They will never speak out. They fear that their
nunhood will be lost.”

Apart from being a bare account of one nun’s claimed experiences, Amen raises
urgent, grave questions about the role and ramifications of the church
organisation in India. Sister Jesme’s allegations point to the larger
issue of the might of the Indian church apparatus. This power has
manifested itself in the church’s ability to evade punishment with
impunity in every squalid episode listed earlier. We are witness to a
scary repeat of the Church’s deeds at the height of its power in
mediaeval Europe.

It is also a testimony to the powerful pecking
order that exists in the clergy. Sister Jesme claims that a
Bangalore-based “pious priest” stripped off his clothes in private and
asked her to do the same. Needless to mention, her voice was drowned
under the flood of authority, which pretended everything was holy in
god’s house. In her words, the Church is a “formidable fortress.”

fact that an overwhelming number of such cases emanate from Kerala is
unsurprising because the State is the most powerful in the entire
Christian lobby in India. The local media, police, and major sections
of the establishment actively collude with the wrongdoers, remain mum,
or are bullied into silence. The weekly that pursued Santosh Madhavan
miraculously muted itself in the Abhaya case. The Church hasn’t issued
any statement so far on Amen.

The Church gets away with
such alleged offences because majority of Indians are ignorant of
Christianity’s past. Their knowledge is derived mostly from
candle-lightings, miracles and such ‘soft’ depictions in media, art,
and movies.

The Kerala church-related activities that are now
the subject of much discussion become obvious only if we have a sense
of history. At its debauched worst, several medieval Popes kept
concubines, organised sexual orgies, and issued political decrees
simply because its power was unquestioned. This selfsame character and
machinery is at work here, in Kerala. The political class in the State
and nation cannot dare antagonise the Christian lobby, thanks to the
almighty vote-bank.

It remains to be seen what happens to Sister Jesme. An obvious first step might be a state-imposed ban on Amen.

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