The Narakkal Episode: Virtual Space Facilitating a Liberative Discourse

The Narakkal Episode is the title given to a document, created mainly through online encounters in order to address the crude experiences of patriarchal abuse of a small group of Catholic sisters in a place called Narakkal in Kerala, India. Narakkal caught the public eye when the sisters there resisted attempts made by the local church authorities—on the basis of forged documents—to appropriate a school the sisters had been running for the public. The events took a hideous turn when the congregational leadership of the sisters, fell prey to the hegemonic manipulations of the Church leadership, even though they had commissioned the local community to study the history of the institution and take a stand accordingly. Under pressure from bishops, the leaders of the religious order demanded that the sisters hand over the school to the local church in religious obedience. The sisters who decided to defy the unjust move were pursued mercilessly by the leaders of their own congregation and some members of the local church, and had to take recourse to civil law for their protection.

The document titled The Narakkal Episode: A Blot on the Church and a Scandal to the People was prepared by a small group of concerned individuals (four feminists, of whom two were men) mainly through online deliberations, as this group had their base in three different states of India. The Narakkal Episode, as a statement issued in the public interest, was widely circulated online for endorsements by those willing to take a prophetic stand against gendered oppression, mainly of women belonging to the Catholic Church in India. Copies of the endorsed statement were sent to all the bishops and to those in leadership of women religious in Kerala. The document challenged the culpable loyalty of the leadership of women religious to the Church hierarchy even at the cost of denying truth and justice. It critiqued strongly the patriarchal interpretations of spirituality and theology of the vows, and called for a radical rethinking of the question of gender relations and power equations in the Church. This document became a prophetic voice breaking the culture of silence, thanks to communications facilitated by cyberspace.

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