Njarakkal Sisters or Naboth’s Vineyard? – Gripping story of six CMC Sisters fight for Justice!
Advocate Jose Joseph, Arayakunnel writes on the Struggle of Six CMC Sisters of Little Flower Convent Njarakkal, Kerala for Justice, from a Lawyer’s Perspective
(Note: This highly gripping article is very relevant and important in the context of the current CCV discussion on: 1 Episcopal persuit (nay chase) after the Mammon of Iniquity and 2.The worship of the glittering Golden Calf of graded royal positions, titles and the display in dressing up in Red, Purple and Satin by the so-called Princes (Constantenian, not of fisherman Peter) among our worshipful pyramidal Hierarchy. It may sound like an enticing detective fairy tale. No it is not unbelievable fancy, it is a record of facts happening right under our nose in the sacred precincts of the Syromalabar Catholic Church in Kochi. Read the story of Naboth’s Vineyard, 1Kings, Chapter 21 to see how history repeats itself, how Old testament happening in the New Testament.
The article was first presented at the National Convention of Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM), meet by Advocate Jose Joseph Arayakunnel, at CASA MARIA, Nirmalgiri, Kottayam, on Feb.19-22, 2016. The theme at the CASA MARIA meet was: Reinventing Religious Life in the Context of India. First the article reached us through Joseph Mattam sj, then through Njarackal Sr. Manju Kulapuram, now in Hyderabad, as National Secretary of Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace.
Commenting on the “Garland of Money” now discussed in CCV, a few bullet reactions received were these: “Shame, shame, shame! Flush them out of the Church” (Chottebhai); “But in that case, we have to flush out almost all bishops. Look! Our Lord had no place to rest his head on. And descendants of his Apostles!!! You can worship either Lord God or money God. But who will remind them of this???”( Kirit Macwan); “None of the above. Just flush yourself out of them (flee these Prelates as from Mortal Sin, because they will be sticking to you like leaches since they have no where else to go. I have done that already!” (this ignorant idiot, that is). Readers are humbly requested to make a comparative study of Garland of Money, Njarakal dog fight, Naboth’s Vineyard and send in their honest reactions to CCV without fear or favour and without mincing words. james kottoor, editor)
The struggle by six CMC sisters for justice against the mighty hierarchy and winning their cause is something unique not only in the history of the Kerala Catholic Church but also in the Indian Church.
It is a victory of truth and justice and a victory for the whole women religious in India over the domination by the priestly class. I was involved in the struggle as a legal advisor and a lawyer to plead their case in the court. I am happy to share with you the gist of the struggle from the perspective of a lawyer and the lessons all of us learn from the extraordinary victory of six simple sisters against all odds, including stiff opposition and oppression from their own congregation.
The six brave heroines of this long and complicated story are 1) Sr. Jessy (69 yrs), the Mother Superior & The Manager 2) Sr. Annie Jaise, (63 yrs) Principal, St. Joseph’s Public school 3) Sr. Josephina (91yrs) 4) Sr. Basaleena (78 yrs) 5) Sr. Raisy Rose (49 yrs), Teacher and 6) Sr. Jiny John (44 yrs) Teacher.
The bishops and the priests involved in the story are Mar Thomas Chakkiyath, Mar Sebastian Edayanthrath, Fr. Joseph Kariatty (now no more) and Fr. Paul Kallookaran
The cause of the Fight: Dispute over Properties
3 acres and 69 cents of land and the ninety year old beautiful two storied convent building, the seventy year old aided Little Flower High School and the Unaided St. Joseph’s English medium School (under CBSE) are the properties involved in the dispute. The property and the schools are worth more than rupees hundred crores at present. The land documents (title deeds or Sale deeds) and the receipts of the tax paid by the convent for many years prove that the ownership of the land is with the convent. At the last stage of the struggle the Vicar, Fr. Kallukaran applied to the collector for ascertaining the properties of the convent and of the parish church with all details. The then District Collector, Sri. Shake Pareeth called all the parties including the Tahasildar and Survey Superintendent and conducted four sessions of meeting and discussions and finally the Tahasildar submitted a detailed survey plan and the revenue records. As per the final Survey report and plan it is established that the property owned and possessed by the convent is measuring three acres and sixty nine cents. It is unequivocally declared by the Collector that the property of 3.69 acres is owned and possessed by the Njarakkal Little Flower Convent only and thereby the entire claim of ownership put forward by the Bishops and the Vicars stands vanished into thin air.
The Core of the Dispute
The Bishops and the Vicars claimed that they are the owners of the property and the school. So the nuns should surrender the school and the property to them and leave the convent forever. This was a most cruel, false and nonsensical stand adopted by them because they thought that the six simple nuns at Njarakkal will be frightened and they will leave the properties to the diocese.
Genesis of Njarakkal Dispute
Ninety years ago, in 1926 (1101 M.E), the Carmelite nuns of Koonanmavu, purchased 3 acres and 69 cents of land at Narakkal and constructed the presently existing two storied convent building. 33 Nuns were residing in the big convent building. During the time of Second World War, when poverty was at its peak, the Parishioners of the St. Mary’s Church compelled the nuns to start a girls’ high school in the convent building. The Mother Superior applied for and obtained sanction to start the Little Flower Girls High School and in the year 1945 the school started functioning. The Vicar was appointed by the Mother Superior as her nominee Manager of the school. In those days the sisters rarely went out of the convent and the management of the school needed going to the government offices frequently for obtaining various sanctions. That is the reason for the Mother Superior making the Parish Priest as her nominee. This practice continued for about 26 years.
A new Education Act came into force in 1971. Taking advantage of this change, the then Vicar and the Manager of the School, Fr. Joseph Panjikkaran and his Assistant, Fr. Antony Chirappanathu forged a document and having influenced the Regional Director of Education, changed the Management and Educational agency of the school to the Vicar of St. Mary’s Church Narakkal. The sisters were totally unaware of this fraudulent action of depriving the sisters of the ownership of the school. Meanwhile the sisters had started St. Joseph English Medium Public School under the CBSC in the same compound.
In 2007, the then parish Vicar Rev. Fr. Antony Chirappanathu filed petition before the Archdiocese of Eranakulam to shift the St. Joseph Public School from Convent’s property. While dealing with these issues in the Department of Education the sisters came to know about the forged documents and the transfer of the ownership of the convent school to St. Mary’s Church. Then the nuns filed petitions before the Government and after due enquiry and detailed hearing the ownership of the school was restored to the convent on 30-9-2008.
Sister Jessy, the mother Superior became the Manager of the school from 30-9-2008. Against the said Government order dated 30-9-2008 the Vicar Fr. Joseph Kariatty filed Writ petition before the High Court. The Division Bench of the High Court declared that the order passed in favor of the convent is quite legal and valid. By then Father Kariatty died and the New Vicar Fr. Paul Kallookaran went to Supreme Court against the Decision of The Division Bench, but it was proved to be in vain. The sisters won the case in the Supreme Court also.
In order to take revenge against the sisters the Vicar Fr. Kalloorkaran filed complaints against issuing the NOC for the St. Joseph Public School. This necessitated a great fight to obtain the CBSE Affiliation for the School, having more than 700 students and thirty teachers. Anyhow sister Jessy and Sister Annie Jaise could obtain the NOC and the affiliation for St. Joseph School.
Immediately after obtaining the Government order restoring Little Flower High School to Njarackal convent a very sad and miserable story of holding the Superior General and the counselors as hostages at the residence of the vicar from 2 P.M to 9.30 P.M on 4-10-2008 took place. They were released only on getting the document prepared on the Stamp paper and signed by the Superior General, agreeing to transfer the ownership of the school to the Vicar. Later this was intimated to the concerned authorities and what was written on the stamp paper was scrapped.
Then, the matters became all the more serious. Bishop Chakkaiyathu directly got involved in the fight. He prevailed upon the Superior General to issue the order dated 12-2-2009, transferring all the nuns at once from the Njarakkal convent to different convents after closing down the convent. The Njarakkal community of sisters did not obey the order. They continued to stay in the convent as before. Then the Bishop forced the Superior General to issue the order of “Precept Under Obedience Order”, threatening the Mother Superior Sr. Jessy that in case she refuses to go to Paravoor and take residence in the convent there, she will be dismissed from the Congregation.
The bold sisters took the decision to put up an open fight against the dictates of the Bishop and the Superior General. Sr. Jessy filed the suit O.S. No. 298/ 2009 before the Sub Court Paravoor, against the Superior General and obtained a stay against the order of “Precept Under Obedience Order”. This order was obtained from the court after prolonged and repeated hearings. Against the said order of stay/ injunction, the Superior General went in appeal before the District Court at Paravoor and this appeal was also dismissed. While the said O.S 298/ 09 was pending, Sr. Jessy and Sr. Annie Jaise filed another suit O.S 121/2013 before the Sub Court Kochi against the vicar and the Bishops and the Superior General. In this suit, the Sub Court ordered to maintain Status Quo prevailing at the Narakkal Convent. As the hands of the Superiors and the Bishops were tied by court orders, the nuns at Narakkal remained safe and continued their fight.
By this time the whole world came to know about the torture of the Njarakkal nuns and the public opinion went against the Vicar and Bishops. There were numerous other cases including the criminal cases pending against the Vicar Fr. Kariatty, Fr. Killukkan, Bishop Chakkiyath and several others. The Bishops, finding no alternate but to come to terms with the nuns at Narakkal agreed to reach a compromise and advised the Superior General to reach a compromise in all the civil suits and also in the criminal cases. Thus the entire episode of fight between the nuns of Njarakkal on one side and the Bishops, Vicar and the Superior General on the other side has reached a happy ending by the compromise.
Once the court cases were settled and the nuns of Njarakkal convent got an assurance from the Superior General before the honourable judge of the Kochi Sub-court that the ownership of the Little Flower Convent School and of the convent will never be transferred to the parish they voluntarily offered to leave the Njarakkal convent. Thus a new team sisters came and took charge of the convent and of the schools. The six sisters went to different convents as per the transfer given to them by the superiors.
Thus the fight ended and now the school and the property remain with the nuns of the CMC congregation. The CMC Congregation is peacefully running the two schools and the convent is running the schools more peacefully. In spite of all this the Bishops Chakkiyath and Bishop Edayanthram are not satisfied and they remain restless even now. It is reliably learned that they are even now instigating the Vicar and Parishioners of Narakkal to rise in revolt against the sisters of the Narakkal Convent. The Public, the various organizations of the laity are ever watchful on these developments.
The lessons we learnt or the insight we have gathered in the Njarakkal issue:
(a) Even a miniscule group of persons, even religious, fight for a just cause with determination and perseverance, they can at the end succeed.
(b) The incident has shown that the Catholic Church of Kerala does not stand for justice and does not do justice even to the dedicated religious women.
(c) It is astonishing that not even a single Bishop has come forward openly to plead for the just cause of the nuns even when the fight assumed scandalous dimensions.
(d) This fight has vindicated that even criminal cases against the Bishops and priests will not have any salutary effect on the Bishops as a whole because of their money power and influence over certain judicial officers and the political class. This is the reason why Bishop Chakkiyath, the eighth accused in the criminal case did not even appear before the criminal court after issuing repeated summons to him. Anyhow the Bishop could manage to withdraw the criminal complaint by fair or foul means, after settling the Narakkal dispute amicably.
(e) This is a case of monumental success achieved by the simple nuns of Narakkal CMC community over the mighty Bishops and Vicars. This is the first time that the hubris of the Bishops got a severe blow by their abject surrender before the nuns. The belief that a Bishop will never be defeated, that he will always be a winner or victor has been disproved. Here the Bishops were defeated and they were the losers; but the simple nuns became the victors/ winners. The biblical story of a simple lad, David defeating the mighty Goliath was re-enacted at Narakkal.
Regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the present way of religious life, I can only say that the religious women are very shy of fighting for the cause of their rights and justice against the Church hierarchy.
With regard to the changes needed in the religious life I would propose to convey my feeling that the religious should give utmost importance to love each other with a spirit of sharing and forgiving and not to obeying the dictates of the superior of the congregation or the rules of the congregation. The present tendency of teaching and observance of the slavish obedience is outdated and not life giving. Dialogue will be the outcome of cheerful relationship of mutual love, intimacy, spirit of service and above all the love of God reflected in the love of human beings. Avoid the term “Obedience” as far as possible.
“The fire is extinguished by water; the heat of the sun is kept out by an umbrella; the Sharp spear could control and restrain the mad elephant and with sticks the herds of cattle.Medicine could cure your illness; by mantras you can control sorcery. For every ill man (person) is prone to, there is a cure; But alas! FOR THE WICKED AND THE CURSED, THERE IS NO CURE AT ALL!” (You may contact following emails, for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.)
The Njarakkal School/Convent torture case stands solid example of the Church's mad craze for money and power. This is one among the many cases where the prelates shamelessly served injustice. I wonder what our Major Arch Bishop is for. Better not to have one rubber stamp like him. Shame on the Church!
Joseph Mattappally (Asso. editor)