The court on Friday acquitted Roman Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the charges of raping a nun in a convent, citing various reasons including the victim's inconsistent version of incidents and lack of corroborative evidence to prove the prosecution case.
"Exaggerations and embellishments," were the words that stood out in the verdict pronounced by the Additional Sessions Court that had acquitted Mulakkal.
While judge G Gopakumar pronounced the much-awaited verdict with a single-liner on Friday morning, most of the details from a 289-page judgment were out only by night.
Mulakkal, 57, was accused of raping the nun multiple times during his visit to a convent in Kottayam district of Kerala between 2014 and 2016 when he was the Bishop of the Jalandhar Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. The complainant is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the Jalandhar Diocese.
Acquitting the Bishop, the court order said the victim's claim that she was raped on 13 occasions under duress cannot be taken reliance on the basis of her solitary testimony.
It further says, “It is true that the hymen of the victim was found torn in her medical examination. But defence contends that there was a complaint against the victim, by her own cousin that she had indulged in sexual intercourse with her husband.
"Even if it is assumed that the complaint was a false complaint, from the mere fact that the victim’s hymen was found torn, penile penetration or forceful sexual intercourse cannot be inferred.”
Observing that there was no consistency in the victim's statement, the court said the grievance projected by her to her companion sisters was that the accused was taking retaliatory steps for not yielding to his sexual desires, whereas her version before the court was that she was forced to do sexual intercourse with the accused on 13 occasions including fingering on the first occasion.
"Prosecution has failed to give proper explanation for the inconsistent version", it said.
Noting that the victim's original version to the doctor was that there is no history of penetrative sex, the court referred to various judgments and said in view of the victim's inconsistent version, it is of the view that she cannot be categorised as a sterling witness and also cannot be categorised as a wholly reliable witness.
The court said apart from the victim's testimony, "there is no corroborative evidence to prove the prosecution case".
"The police could not seize the mobile phone used by the victim which would have provided some input into the alleged vulgar messages sent by the accused. The explanation offered for the non-production of the phone is thoroughly dissatisfactory", the court said.
It said the laptop also was not subjected to scientific analysis, as it is claimed that the hard disk got damaged.
"It is impossible to separate the grain from the chaff. There are exaggerations and embellishments in the version of the victim. She has also made every attempt to hide certain facts", it said.
The court said it was evident that the victim was swayed under the influence of others who had other vested interests in the matter.
The in-fight and rivalry and group fights of the nuns, and the desire for power, position and control over the congregation is evident from the demand placed by PW1 (victim) and her supporting nuns who were ready to settle the matter if their demands for a separate region under the diocese of Bihar is accepted by the church", it said.
"As held by the Hon'ble apex (Supreme) court in Jayaseelan (supra) when it is not feasible to separate truth from falsehood, when grain and chaff are inextricably mixed up, the only available course is to discard the evidence in toto.
"In the said circumstances, this court is unable to place reliance on the solitary testimony of PW1 (victim) and to hold the accused guilty of the offences charged against him," the court said in its order acquitting Mulakkal of the offences under various IPC sections.
A visibly relieved and emotional Mulakkal, who arrived in the court to hear the verdict, burst into tears, hugged his followers and lawyers, sharing his joy over the verdict. "Daivathinu Sthuthi (praise the Lord)," he said when reporters repeatedly sought his reaction.
A group of nuns of Kuravilangad Convent, who were standing with the victim, were on the verge of tears when they said they were yet to believe such a verdict came out from the court and they did not know what had happened.
The survivor and her supporters stay in the Kuravilangad convent in Kottayam.
Sister Anupama, who was the face of the nun's years-long fight for justice, said they would surely challenge the verdict in the higher court and take forward the fight of their hapless colleague.
"We will continue our stay in the convent and take forward our fight till our sister gets justice. Police and prosecution showed justice to us but we did not get the expected justice from the judiciary," the nun told reporters.
Criminal lawyer B Raman Pillai, who led the Bishop's legal team, said they have got the right to file the appeal against the verdict. "Even if they go for appeal, there is no tension as prosecution charges against the Bishop are false", Pillai said.
Investigators, lawyers and social activists who stood with the nun in her fight against Mulakkal expressed shock over the verdict, saying it was totally unexpected.
Mulakkal is the first Indian Bishop arrested in connection with a rape case.
(With inputs from PTI)