Interrogation of the Bishop, who had been asked to appear before the probe team in Kochi, has begun.

Reports have it that the immediate arrest of the Bishop is unlikely as he has moved the Kerala High Court for anticipatory bail. The HC, which was supposed to hear the case yesterday, has, however, deferred it to September 25. Although there is no bar on arresting an accused even if an anticipatory bail application is pending in a court of law – there are Supreme Court rulings which say arrest can be effected during the pendency of anticipatory bail applications - the police has said that the arrest will have to await the order of the court on September 25.

At the same time, Kerala police does not rule out arrest if the interrogation of the Bishop confirms the contradictions in his depositions. The police has prepared a 500-strong list of questions, and it is only a fair guess that the interrogation will not be a one-day affair.

Incidentally, the first affidavit filed by the police in the HC says there is strong evidence to arrest the Bishop. Also, the Bishop’s statements are littered with contradictions. For instance, the bishop denied having been in a place where he first raped the nun. He said he was away at another place on that day. The police on enquiry has found that the Bishop was lying! Likewise, the driver of the Bishop has confirmed having dropped him at Kuravilangad on the day the nun said she was raped.

The HC has, in a way, tossed the ball back into the court of the police. This gives the police a golden chance to arrest the Bishop after the interrogation, and rebut criticism that it has given him too long a rope – a luxury an ordinary rape-accused does not enjoy.

The survivor nun and other nuns who are on a sit-in strike demanding immediate arrest of accused Franco have, in the meantime, voiced fears that more time for the Bishop would help him to influence and intimidate witnesses and destroy vital evidence. Their fears are not entirely misplaced. For instance, a priest who had initially said that the nun had strong evidence against the accused Bishop has changed his stance! He now says he was misled by the nuns. It is obvious that somebody on behalf of the Bishop has influenced this change of mind. The nuns, whose agitation has evoked strong solidarity and support from people belonging to all walks of life and gaining further traction, also fear that vital evidence they have handed over to the police may also be tampered with, given the Bishop’s influence and clout.

What is extremely significant is that the prosecutor has not sought the arrest of the Bishop as is expected of him in the normal circumstances! The prosecutor’s failure to do so could have influenced the HC’s decision to defer hearing on the anticipatory bail plea of the accused. If the prosecutor had opposed the anticipatory bail application and made a strong case for immediate arrest of the accused, maybe the HC would have disposed of the petition yesterday itself.

The hesitation of the police to effect immediate arrest of the Bishop is difficult to explain. The force need not rack their brains over the decision or wring their hands in despair. It is not as if there are no precedents. In the rape case involving Malayalam actor Dileep, the police took him into custody and kept him inside for over 80 days after the prosecution said he could influence and intimidate witnesses and destroy evidence if he remains free. The prosecutor could have resorted to the same argument in this case. That he did not has only further fuelled speculation of the police and the government taking a pro-Bishop stance.

A word on the stand taken by the Church authorities is in order. Right from the beginning, the church authorities have only tried to hush up the case and brush the whole incident under the carpet. There are a few exceptions like Father Susapakkiyam and others who have sided with the victim. It may be mentioned that the hapless nun had knocked on all doors in quest of justice. Alas, no door opened, which forced her to take to the street. Even now, efforts are on to intimidate the nuns and priests who side with the rape survivor to change their stand.

As for the stand of the mainstream political parties, the less said the better. All of them have remained silent. The reason for their inexcusable silence is not difficult to dwell. The parties simply do not want to offend or alienate their Christian vote banks by openly siding with the nuns! This is hypocrisy of the highest order as they do not lose a single opportunity to proclaim from the housetops their sympathy and solidarity with the rape victims. In the process, the politicians – exceptions are there but they are far and few - have diminished themselves. And not all the perfumes of Arabia would absolve them of their sin, to borrow an expression of Shakespeare. (IPA Service)