Whatever you do to the least of my sisters that you do unto me

Lissy Dec 2019An Interview with Sr. Lissy Vadakel

Transcribed to English, so that more people can understand and listen to this strong woman of faith with a conviction to support a quest for justice at a great personal cost—Anita Cheria

Sr. Lissy in an interview to Asianet News aired on 1st December 2019 talks about how she finds the humiliation, isolation and enmity being shown to her by her congregation, some members of the church and church authorities reaching unbearable levels. She talks about being pressurized to change her statement as a prime witness in the Franco case. Given below is her link to her interview in Malayalam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_4pTf0vUcs&feature=youtu.be


I gave my statement being fully aware of what I said and implications, it is the truth and under no conditions will I change my statement, or withdraw it.

Many have tried to speak to me out of love, friendship or a sense of enmity to convince me that giving a statement against the bishop would bring shame to the Catholic Church, to its reverence and prestige. They have sent word through my retreat team members and friends. Saying that if I give a statement accusing the bishop of such a crime, it will bring shame, damage the ‘Body of Christ’ [i.e. the Church]. People have spoken to me directly, over the phone, sent word through others and tried in several ways, and several times to convince me.

An elderly lady who met me went to the extent of telling me how do deny the statement, she said, “Anyway some sisters from your own congregation are saying that you have lost your mind. When you are called to court you can say that one day when I was excited and disturbed, and lacked clarity, as I suffer from this mental issue, that is when I made this statement, in a disturbed weak moment, and you did not really mean it. You can say that and withdraw your statement. Don’t give this statement against the bishop. Just like if you strike at the roots the branches of the tree will dry up, if you complain like this against the bishop our Catholic community will suffer. So sister please withdraw your statement.” To which I replied that I will never under any circumstances make such a denial. A wrong took place and I am a witness, and I will stand by the truth and my statement. What Bishop Franco did was a crime, he needs to be convicted for it, that way the complainant – the sister – will get justice. And justice should prevail.

Bishop Franco is a bishop in a mission area outside Kerala. He has immense influence, money and power. It is because of this that he had this false impression that he could come to Kerala, commit such wrong doings against this sister and get away with it.

If the investigations and cross questioning is done honestly and completed efficiently I am fully convinced that he will be convicted. If in between the witnesses are influenced with money, bribe or misuse of power and evidence is tampered with, or the officers shirk their duty, then of course there is a possibility that he will not be convicted. He should be convicted, that is the reason why for the last 10 months I am undergoing the pain of being isolated, being singled out and humiliated as an enemy of the Catholic Community, as a follower of devil’s advocate. The pain I experience – intense pain – is only to accomplish this.

So for me the sooner the court hearing for this case are completed I will get a relief from this treatment. This isolation and being targeted as an enemy of my congregation, of my community of the church and of Christ has reached an unbearable level.

Featured post

Feeling Hopeful with Anu

December and Jan are months,
When Anu enters my mind,
And warms my heart like the winter sun,
With a light touch and comforting warmth.

She is part of the mess while I’m baking,
Part of the sweetness when tasting, Growing with Anu

In the words that I speak, while debating,
And in the silence while I sit, doing nothing.

This year I can sense her presence,
In every candle that I see,
In the feet that rush on the street
In songs sung to a beat,
Of unity and oneness,
We rarely see.

Feeling hopeful with Anu,
Today more than other days.
Continue reading “Feeling Hopeful with Anu”

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Dismissing justice-the case of Sisters Lucy and Lizzy

 

Till August 2018, a year back Sr. Lucy and Sr. Lissy had very little in common except for the fact that they belonged to the same congregation and had somewhat similar names. But today they are perceived as  partners in crime. The media refers to them and rightly so –‘as nuns who support the nun who dared to complain repeated rape and sexual abuse’. Sr Lucy became a target for disciplinary action after she joined the historic public protest for Mulakkal’s arrest, as she felt it her Christian duty to support a nun who was fighting a case of sexual abuse and rape. A nun who was got no support from those in  positions of power within the church hierarchy. Sr. Lissy on the other hand had  a longer association with the survivor sister whom she  first met way back in 2011 in Jalandhar . And  continued to counsel her once she shifted to  Kuravilangad, and felt compelled to share what was shared with her in confidence, an experience of unbearable sexual abuse, she felt compelled by her faith to stand for justice

The trajectory of their religious life has been poles apart, Sr. Lucy has been a Maths teacher, activist and poet, the Sr. Lissy Vadakel on the other hand -a star evangelist and preacher of the Catholic Church. While Sr. Lucy’s articulation and method of engaging with her passion of working with people has been constantly criticised for being out of step of the accepted congregational way of life of FCC’s. In Sr. Lissy case, it was dramatically different,  she had been a star of her congregation and of church authorities because of her very powerful preaching skills. She was booked for retreats and meetings for months together. Initially she was posted in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, here she learnt Telugu and came to be known for her strong oratory skills and preaching, going to far flung areas, were she was able to reach out to communities and localities that were often avoided by other evangelists. As they were places difficult to get to both geographically and culturally. Her work was highly appreciated.

After many years of being constantly on the move, her health started failing and she asked to be moved back to her home state Kerala from Vijayawada. There was no change planned as far as her mission was concerned, only her place of stay. Thus the understanding that she continues with her preaching and retreats. The arrangement was that between her retreats, she could reside in the guest house in Muvattupuzha under the FCC Vijayawada congregation. Such breaks were short, often just a couple of days to rest and prepare for her next programme. She had the full support of her congregation and church authorities for her evangelising work based out of Jyothi Bhavan for ‘almost 14 years’ till February 2019. It was only after it was known that she had given a witness statement in favour of the nun who complained of being repeatedly raped and abused by a Bishop that her staying at Muvattupuzha was questioned and her mission work delegitimised.

The News Minute a digital news portal that reported on this issues on Friday, February 22, 2019, and I quote ” Two days after the Muvattupuzha police in Ernakulam registered a case against Provincial Superior Sister Alphonsa and three counsellors of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation’s (FCC) Vijayawada convent, for wrongfully confining one of its members, Sister Lissy Vadakel, Sr. Alphonsa alleged, “Sister Lissy Vadakkel had stayed in the guest house in Muvattupuzha under the FCC Vijayawada convent for the last 14 years. She was staying in the guest in her personal capacity and not for any work associated with the Vijayawada Province. During her stay there, she had established a relationship with the nuns of the Kuravilangad convent and gave a statement to the police against Bishop Franco Mulakkal clandestinely,” reads the statement.”

The fact that Sr. Lissy was based in Jyothi Bhavan Muvattupuzha for 14 years is correct. But to say that she was there for her personal gains, and ‘ not for any work associated with Vijayawada Province’ is a completely false accusation.

In the case of Sr. Lucy’s case, allegations made against her in the first warning letter 1st January 2019 include:
1. She printed a book without the sanctioned support of her congregation.
2. She learnt driving and bought a car with her own salary and without the approval or support of her congregation.
3. Sharing messages on social media, and on television channels belittling Catholic leadership with false accusations
4. She was called for discussions several times, but did not cooperate.

But again,  none of what she did seemed to really matter to the congregation before September 2018, when she joined the protest. Her warning first warning letter was issued on 1st January 2019, while Sr. Lissy Vadakel got her warning after 20th February 2019, when it became known that she had given a witness statement to the magistrate under section 164 to support the survivor nun’s claim of being sexually abused and raped.

The warning and dismissal letters to Sr. Lucy refer to broken congregational rules and canon law. These can be interpreted and analysed by experts in several ways. That said,  the timing of these allegations make the canonical and congregational concerns sound unconvincing and fake. What is clear is that if all the allegations made on both these sisters were genuine concerns of the FCC leadership, they should have warned and dismissed them much earlier.  At least a couple of years back in Sr. Lucy’s case and a decade back in Sr. Lissy’s case. The timing of the allegations leave no doubt that the sisters are being targeted for their support to the nuns fighting the rape case.

Anita Cheria, 9th August 2019

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An Ode to teacher Menon

Best wishes to my teacher Menon, on her 80th birthday,
Teacher Menon was one of my first and only  teacher,
Who  encouraged her students to help each other, 
She said,  “ teaching and learning go hand in hand”  
But also cautioned us about rules  for sharing and caring.
“So always help friends in subjects you can,
But the good time to do it is well before exams”,
She said with her quiet smile.Leela Menon 1

While she told us about the syllabus to prepare for an exams,
She also added that calculations will always be part of life.
That division and additions are not always a 'problem'
And are tools that will help us to 'profit' in life.                                                                                                       
Her passion to teach, 
Meant reaching  out to every pair of doubtful eyes,
Ready to take extra classes and give extra time,
For anyone who wanted her to clear doubts or learn.
It's rare to find a maths teacher like her,
Whose calculations factored  in the complexity of life.

It was her clarity of concepts about maths and life,
That kept her students inspired to listen and question. 
I wish every student found a teacher like her. 
And is blessed with such relationships that one cherishes for life.

Wishing you strength, for all the things you like to do,
And you remain blessed with the wealth of good health.
With love from all your students in Carmel !   6th July 2020

 

Covid-19 -an excuse to compromise labour rights and silence dissent

The absence of reports on the nationwide labour strike on 22nd May is a loud reminder of the condition of workers in India. They are being blamed and demonised for their poverty and numbers. Branded as Covid carriers and our systems finds it easier to criminalise them than address their needs. This is despite the government actively forcing them into this condition of helplessness by systematically supporting the informalization of worker contracts and lowering wages and  diluting worker rights under the pretext of reform for several years now. Even as workers are left with nothing now, the government going ahead with more such policies to ‘combatcovid’. 

The one bureaucrat Mr. Manivannan, Principal Secretary to Department of Labour, who actively reached out to labour issues and labour unions in Karnataka  was transferred overnight after his actions were criticised by  corporates and  politicians alike.

The 22nd May protest was held nationwide  on the call of 10 Central Trade Unions. It was joined by several other trade unions active at National and State level including the RSS-affiliated trade union BMS which condemned the “total withdrawal” of labour laws by the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. A Joint Petition by the Central Trade Unions(CTUs) was submitted to the Prime Minister via e mail. This petition was simultaneously released all over India by the participating leaders and activists.

The demands:

  • Immediate relief to stranded workers for safe reaching to their homes.
  • Food to be made available to all, universal coverage of ration distribution without conditions.
  • Ensure wages to all the entire lock down period, cash transfer of Rs.7500/- to all non-income tax paying households including unorganized labour force (registered or unregistered or self-employed) for at least three months i.e. April, May and June.
  • Withdraw DA freeze to central government employees & CPSEs and DR freeze to pensioners.
  • Stop surrendering of live sanctioned posts, put a complete halt to any changes/dilutions in the labour laws.
  • Strengthen of the Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act 1979, to ensure compulsory registration of migrant workers ensuring with adequate protective provisions on wages, social security, accommodation and welfare needs with a strong and accountable enforcement mechanism
  • Halt to the policy of wholesale privatization PSUs and government departments through multi-pronged routes like corporatization, outsourcing, PPP, liberalized FDI announced by the FM from 13th May to 17th May 2020 and PM in the addresses  during lock down period.

The strike took several forms to combat the situation of ‘no dissent’ that has been followed by the government under the pretext of COVID -19 safety measures. From lunch hour protest meetings, to hunger strikes and solidarity actions by wearing black badges. Workers from coal unions,  banks and industrial workers   from several states participated. For example, in Tamilnadu the programme was organized in 10000 places with more than 2 lakh people, in  Kerala were organized in 5000 places with participation of more than one lakh persons while in Maharashtra the programmes could be organized in about 36 districts. In several locations district level protests were held and memorandums were submitted to the District collectors in Haryana and Punjab.

Some of the protesting leaders were arrested and detained in UP and Delhi. In Bangalore the Joint Committee of Trade Unions in India  that started its protest at Anand Rao circle were forced to shift the protest as the police kept harassing them. Only three representatives were allowed to meet the Governor of the state.

The fight goes on

According to Rukmini Ramesh President of the Garment Labour Union, the organizing committee decided to continue with more protests to build pressure on the government.  As it was critical to keep raising critical labour right violations, particularly the daily wage unorganised worker concerns as they are forced into this ‘do or die situation by the government. A decision was taken to protest against the diversion of funds and control of the Building and Construction Workers Welfare Board by the government on the 28th May 2020.

On 29th May 2020 the Garment Labour union held  a protest outside the labour department. They plan to follow up the protest  with gate meetings outside factories in order to reach out to workers and involve them in taking up their cause. Rukmini Ramesh leaders of the Garment Labour Union said, “We held our protest  in front of the Labour department office. Over 200 workers joined to demand  protection of garment worker right. The context of the lockdown is being misused by companies for non- payment of wages and suspension of workers. We won’t tolerate the dilution of labour rights by the central and state governments as a strategy to support corporate interests ignoring the plight of workers .” 

Many in positions of power today talk about the ‘impact being global’ and emphasise the need to deal with this challenge together -rationalising a  sense of solidarity and  sharing costs. This same sentiment of ‘sharing’ unfortunately  is mostly unheard when it comes to ‘sharing profits’ with the workers.

 

Labour trains Or Labour Pains

Why do shramik trains arranged after a 60 days long wait by workers have to be so carefully mismanaged. How are they guided to take extra long routes and meagre amounts of water and food, that would not last a few hours if consumption was normal. This is what ‘shramiks’ get after spending days trying to satisfy all procedures, whims and fancies of the concerned departments and officials.  Why does everything to do with workers have to be carefully planned a nightmare. Sharing here some snippets from the journey of a worker from Bangalore to Jampani village in Jharkhand which started from his shelter at 5.30 am on 14th morning and ended in his village on 21stMay afternoon. He says “Both in the train and shelter there was not enough water to clean or drink or food to eat . We feared falling sick and being kept back again.” Not going into the struggle he had in getting to fill his details on Seva Sindhu, the portal that turned hostile to him till it was satisfied that he had struggled enough, and delivered the much awaited OTP on his phone. It took him a week. Download the app, go to the police station, fill forms online and offline, wait to be called, you can check on the helpline… these are instructions given to workers, who have been struggling to survive despite living in cities that turned hostile with the lock down.

14th May: On the day of travel he reached the police station at 6am, the day before that he was asked to come to police station with a copy of the form filled on Seva Sindhu, and a copy of his Aadhar card. He was told to fill another form in the police station. They conducted medical check-up in police station  and he paid  Rs.960 got  receipt ( like a bus ticket.) He said , ” At noon we were given lunch, only then did we get water also that was the first and last thing we got, we were held up there till 3pm. We were about 500 people. Then we were taken by police by bus to the Malur railway station. ( 25 workers in the bus)We reached Malur around 7pm, again we had another check-up, and marked like voters, seated in a line and given dinner around 10.15pm. Then we put in the train. One person per seat.  There were families too. Children were also there. No water in the toilet in train. Children were crying but there was nothing to feed them.

15th May : Next day we got our next meal at  2pm in Vishakhapatnam station. You  can call it lunch, but we got nothing before or after.

16th May : Next day 11am we reached Jasidih Junction; this is about 6 hours more than it usually takes. After we got down, we got another meal and were put in buses. The trip from Jasidih by bus to the district Simdega  took over 12 hours.

17th May : No food or water was provided. Those who had some money bought some biscuits. At 2pm the following day we reached  the shelter ( women’s college hostel) in Simdega  and got lunch.

18th -20st May : At the shelter there was another medical check- up, this time a swab test, and temperature check. The reports took three days to come. The shelter was dirty, not enough water to keep toilets clean, no cleaning tools or sanitisers. We feared falling sick there. We got two tiny purees around 10 in the morning, rice and dal at 3pm and 10pm. Food was bad to and too little, we were hungry till we reached home. Finally, the covid test results came, most of us were relieved it was negative. 

21st May : We were dropped home Jaldega block,  Patiamba panchayat  Jampani village.

Since then I have heard of other shramik trains taking double the time, ending up at  random destinations, people falling sick, struggling with hunger and thirst and some dying while journeying. I am really worried about the group of 7 worker friends who got on a similar train last night!”

Sisters, Resisters and Persisters

Sisters Resistors Persistors
Artist : Dr.Sylvia Karpagam

While history   books paint a grand picture of ancient civilizations, scientific discoveries and technological advancements of the human-race, something that remains out of syllabus is the widespread practices of marginalizing and discrimination of individuals and often large sections of society. The largest section of the marginalised certainly consists of women.

The Report of the UN Secretary-General on Sustainable Development Goals in the section on Goal number 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ – mentions that in addition to harmful practices like female genital mutilation and early marriage there is insufficient progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms and attitudes, decision-making on sexual and reproductive issues and low levels of political participation.”

What this means to us is that almost all women experience some form of violence, exclusion and othering in their lives. While the gender bias against women is near universal, women are not one monolithic group when it comes to the experience of this bias. It takes some additional forms and intensity when it comes to women experiencing multiple vulnerabilities. These differences among us need to be understood, acknowledged and addressed. The stigma and discrimination faced by trans women is different from that faced by transmen. Continue reading “Sisters, Resisters and Persisters”

Birthday Happiness 2019

As the sun rises this 24th of July
My dad, gets to be 1000 moons old @84.Mummy @75 &Daddy at 84
A few months earlier on 12th February,
Mummy made it to her diamond @75.

And today like every day,
They will wish and be wished,
By their family and friends,
From across the world.

The smile they smile,
Comes from highly secure investments,
In friendships and strong relationships.
They have made and continue to do.

With neighbours and colleagues from yesteryears,
Co travellers on the train journeys,
People they met on the street, or on a bus.
Friendships they nurtured all their lives.

These are relationships that secure their spirit,
Their lives, and ours- their daughters,
Our children, our neighbours and theirs.

So Achacha, here are some special wishes on your special day,
That you always have reason to smile,
That the best mangoes and fish in the market be yours,
You always have books to read and time to argue with me,
Enjoy walking and talking and listen to the news at 6.30 & 9.

I wake up with hope this 2019, a year of immense possibilities

One year ends, another begins,
It happens every year.
The excitement though,
Of looking back and forth,
Has a distinct flavour,
Each passing year.

 Winnu is back home,
More independent and wise,
Excited about finishing law,
And getting back to dance.
Kolkata has enriched her,
It is a city with  a rich character,
Public transport and public taps for one,
Also clean food and populated streets,
That make you homesick if & when you leave.


Tannu is settled with the Joseph’s in Bangalore
One year into graduation,
She loves computers and cryptography,
Has turned studious and strong,
In pursuing college with conviction.
I would have liked it a little more though,
If Frs Ambrose and Claude,
Had stayed on for just a little longer.


Edwin is now teamed with HRF, Chennai
Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation
Ossie is remembered in all their interventions,
Child rights, SDGs, monitoring and reporting,
A lean team that works hard and fast,
To learn, share and make a difference.

I continue to be part of all the dreams,
Nurture my own and share it with my teams,
Tannu, Winnu and Edwin at home,
And OpenSpace with all at home.
With Jeeva and Cividep India just beyond.

 My work encompasses many highs & lows,
Gender, gender diversity, inclusion and religion,
Have made me labour more and more,
As these are issues close to heart,
and I work on it and love them by heart.

Our days were brightened by a few ordinary folks who did extraordinary things,
Irom Sharmila the iron lady, charming and of few words as always
A sister survivor who dared to complain, and take on an unholy bishop,
Without fear for name or shame.
A simple co-traveller who impressed me most,
Took his family off the church school to his conscience be true
When the shepherds feigned sleep he made sure his woke,
When honourable men shamed those who cried for justice
This simple man steadfastly served the survivors who spoke.

On Independence day 2018 came unprecedented floods,
Five days of nightmare in our riverside village Poovathussery,
A disaster by exacerbated by human folly, followed by herculean human effort
Endearing friendships, thoughtfulness and cooperation
Extraordinary collective action, by ordinary people,
Control room teams that verified status of rescue every night
A disaster that restored my faith in humankind.

This year we saw many milestones,
Winnu has graduated,
Tannu is getting there,
25 years of being a family, and,
We made a family holiday to Europe,
Not something we’d done before

 We supported each other in different ways,
Aligning and realigning our schedules & dreams,
The new year may just get better,
If there is 50% reservation for women, before 
The next parliamentary election is announced. 
Photo from anita

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