Sexalayam (house of sex) is a word coined by CS Rajan, a friend and former judge of the Kerala High Court, who practises in the Supreme Court. I remember him every time I go for a walk around a temple pond at my native place Kayamkulam in Kerala which was inaugurated by him.
He used the new word to headline one of his recent posts in Facebook which evoked a very good response from his friends. Everyone knows that it is an adaptation of the word — Bhranthalayam (lunatic asylum) — Swami Vivekananda used for Kerala. What angered the Swamiji who visited Kerala in the 19th century and whose biography, written by Janata Dal leader MP Veerendra Kumar, is now being serialised in the Mathrubhumi illustrated weekly was the kind of untouchability and unseeability practised in the land of coconuts.
For starters, members of certain castes -- the lowest in the Hindu caste pyramid -- were not only untouchable but also unseeable. They were not allowed to walk on the roads and main thoroughfares. The famous Vaikom Satyagraha was against denying the civic rights of those citizens to use the road that skirted the famous Shiva temple there. What upset Justice Rajan is the sudden surge in sex-related criminal cases reported from Kerala. Everyday, I read two mass-circulation Malayalam newspapers and each of them devotes column after column to report incidents like the alleged murder of a girl student of Chartered Accountancy, the kidnapping and disrobing of a popular film actor to take her nude pictures in a moving car and the suicide of a girl student at Kundra who was serially raped.
As a journalist I felt really offended when I read about the harrowing time a lady journalist had when she accompanied her male friends to celebrate the New Year. And to make matters worse, workers of a political party took the law into their own hands and caned some couples at Kochi for no other reason than that they were found talking to each other. Anybody who has some organised strength can claim themselves to be members of the moral police and there is no one to challenge them. The police prefer to look away, rather than take action against them.
However alarming these incidents might be, I would not have written this column but for the involvement of a Catholic priest in a salacious case and his botched attempt to flee from the country. I still can't believe that a person trained to be a priest can be so wicked. I have many friends and colleagues who could not complete their priestly training and became teachers and journalists. The training they got helps them to excel even in secular fields. The other day I heard motivational speaker Krish Dhanam give statistics of a study done in the jails in the US. Not many know that, percentage-wise, the US has more people in its jails than any other country. He found that the jailbirds included a sizeable number of Christians -- all denominations -- Hindus -- all castes -- and Muslims -- Shia, Sunni, African, Asian etc. There was one group which had a negligible presence in the US jails..
They were the Jews. Krish had an explanation, “The Jews invest in their sons, a tradition that began with Abraham and continued through Joseph, father of Jesus”. I always prided in the fact that Christians had fewer representatives in the jails than any other community in India. In any case, jail is certainly not the place where I expect priests and nuns to be. In the late-sixties when Fr Benedict was arrested for the alleged murder of Marykutty at Madatharuvi in Ranni in the erstwhile Quilon district in Kerala, every Christian felt bad. Anyone who wore a cassock those days had to hear sniggering remarks from the public.
I still remember one priest saying this while giving the sermon in our church: “Earlier, passengers used to get up and offer me a seat whenever I boarded a bus. Now they discuss the murder case so that I can hear the discussion”. Ever since Father Robin Vadakkumchery, the parish priest of St. Sebastian’s Church at Kottiyoor in Kannur district, was arrested under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, I have been feeling upset. No, he is not known to me. He is alleged to have raped and impregnated a 16-year-old girl. It is considered rape because a minor cannot give consent to a sexual act. That is why he faces charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) and Juvenile Justice Acts.
Vadakkumchery also stands accused of several crimes other than rape, including a conspiracy to cover up the alleged sexual abuse and a pregnancy that resulted from it, complicity in moving the new-born from the mother’s arms to an unknown place, and finally offering money to the family to stay silent. It is not the first time that an illicit relationship led to a childbirth. In Vaikom Muhammed Basheer's novel, there is a character who is impotent but claims the paternity of all illicit children born in his village. That was how he sought to deny his impotency. Anybody who heard him only sympathised with him for he knew his incapacity to procreate.
Sex is undoubtedly the most primordial emotions. Man alone tries to control it and fails while the rest of the animal kingdom does not make any such futile attempts. Vishwamitra (Friend of the world) is considered the sage of sages. It was he who authored the Gayatri Mantra which is one of the most sacred mantras for the Hindus.
Yet the wisest of all that Vishwamitra was fell for the charms of Menaka when she appeared before him and the result of their union was Shakuntala. Again, King Dushyanta was so dazzled by Shakuntala whom he met in the forest while he was on a hunting expedition that they ended up begetting Bharat, the great King in whose name India is today known. Neither Vishwamitra nor Dushyantha denied the paternity of their offsprings. What makes Vadakkumchery exceptional is that he tried to silence the members of the girl’s family by allegedly offering them Rs 10 lakh. What’s worse, he tried to force the father of the girl to admit that it was he who impregnated his daughter. During the first questioning, he claimed that the child was his.
If a writer like Muttathu Varkey or Kanam or P. Ayyanath had written about a similar priest in his novel, people would have said that the writer’s imagination had gone wild. Of course, Mark Twain had argued that "reality could be beaten by imagination". When I read this part of the story, the only thought that came to my mind was, “what a loathsome, base and vile character this priest is”. How else could he even think of forcing the girl’s father to accept the child’s paternity?
I know only one similar case. I came across it in the best-selling book The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. In the novel, young Meggie falls in love with Ralph a young Roman Catholic priest who is posted in a rural parish in the belief that he would be able to convince a rich man there to bequeath a share of his huge estate to the church. She makes advances but the priest rebuffs them. One day after a funeral, the two share a passionate kiss in the graveyard. He advises her to get married and move on in life.
She marries a sugarcane-cutter who is interested only in her money. A daughter is born to them. After several years, the priest and Meggie meet and they consummate their love. She misses her periods and in order to force the paternity of the foetus growing in her womb on her husband, she cleverly sleeps with him for one night.
The priest becomes a cardinal and their son becomes a priest. “What she snatched from God, she returns to God”. Alas, the young priest dies while saving two women. Unlike the real priest in Kerala, the fictional priest knows that he fathered a child only long after the child chooses his own vocation. In church circles the father and son are known as uncle and nephew like some of the Popes and their illegitimate offsprings were known. In the novel Meggie is the manipulative one, not Ralph who is a victim of circumstances and primordial passions. In the Kerala incident, it is the priest who is the villain of the piece. There is another priest and a few nuns who are also involved in the case for trying to help the culprit.
The charges against them are unlikely to stand judicial scrutiny. The bishop concerned has claimed that the church would do nothing to save the skin of these priests and nuns. That is the right approach. Now, one question arises: How did Father Vadakkumchery raise Rs 10 lakh to buy the silence of the girl’s family? Recently, one Catholic priest told me that the only money he received from the church was Rs 100 per mass that he led. Even if he was able to say one mass every day, his monthly income would be only Rs 3,000. His bishop had introduced a new rule that a priest should not celebrate more than a mass a day. They were not entitled to any other pocket money.
Obviously, the priest concerned had access to some ill-gotten wealth. I am not an admirer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I have many reasons to criticise him. However, I also have one reason to support him and that is the financial transparency he has tried to introduce in the country. Recently, an organisation that I head received a payment of Rs 30 lakh from the Haryana government. The money reached our account even before the order of payment was despatched.
Earlier, we would have had to go to the office concerned several times to collect the cheque. Modi has sought to use technology to aid transparency. Unfortunately, the church is not all that transparent. One of my friends in Delhi Alexander Philip was forced to file a case against the Mar Thoma Church because of Metropolitan Joseph Marthoma's decision to expel him from the church. Philip got a decree in his favour from the district court concerned but the Metropolitan engaged a very senior lawyer to challenge the decision in the Delhi High Court. There, too, the verdict was against the church. The question that bothered me was: how did the church find so much money to fight the case? Was it taken from the offertory that the members make every Sunday?
Let the annual report of the church for the year 2016-17 be published for I would know how the money was spent. The law in India is very liberal to religious institutions. They do not have to pay income tax for they are not supposed to use the funds for income-generating purposes. They should realise that instead of letting Modi catch them one day, they should on their own set their house in order. If the priest did not have that kind of money, he would not have been able to offer bribe to the girl's father.
To come back to Justice Rajan's post, some of those who made comments said that if children are taught the Gita, Yoga etc, they would not go astray when they grow up. Does moral teaching alone make a child a good citizen? How does one explain the horrible experience of an octogenarian who went to worship at a temple falling prey to the lust of a 20-year-old priest? Or, take the case of a 44-year-old panchayat leader of a party which talks about Bharatiyata! He was caught taking the picture of a woman taking bath in her bathroom using a hidden camera? Teaching Bible or Quran or the Gita is not the solution as many seem to believe.
The solution lies in instilling respect for fellow human beings and teaching children that girls and boys are two sides of the same coin. They need to complement each other. Parents should teach their sons that manliness is not in harassing girls but in protecting them. No woman wants to be treated as a goddess. All that she wants to be treated is as a human being. Just as Vadakkumchery needs to be treated as the father of his only begotten son.
The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org#(Published on 20th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 12)