Sr. Teena Jose | For the cause of victims

The Catholic nun comes out openly against Pala Bishop’s ‘narcotic jihad’ remark

Published - September 18, 2021 10:49 pm IST

The truth shall set you free, says Sister Teena Jose, citing verse 8:32 of St. John’s Gospel, responding to a question on what the cornerstone of her life was as a member of the Catholic religious order, Congregation of the Mother of Carmel.

A busy lawyer practising in Ernakulam, the nun came out openly against a remark by the Bishop of Pala (near Kottayam in central Kerala) Joseph Kallarangatt that there was a case of ‘narcotic jihad’ going on in the State. The allegation was that people belonging to a particular religious community were trying to entice the young through sale of narcotic substances. The issue was raised in line with the ‘love jihad’ allegations.

Sr. Teena’s defiance was rare within the Church hierarchy. She says that as a father of the family, the Bishop should have advised his children to be aware of the danger of the use of addictive substances and warned them against the loss of a precious period of their lives instead of using the church and the pulpit to spread a negative image about a community through the use of the word ‘jihad’.

But she’s not bothered about what responses her open criticism would generate. “The words of Jesus have inspired me and provided sustenance to a fighting spirit,” she says.

She took up various duties under her congregation before deciding to pursue a degree in law. She enrolled as a lawyer after her graduation in law and has been practising since 2008.

Sr. Teena’s move to pursue a law degree followed the death of a former woman member of St. Mary’s Bala Bhavan in Ernakulam, of which she was in-charge. The young married woman was found dead under suspicious circumstances in her home. She had a young child. The case was not properly investigated, feels Sr. Teena.

Sr. Teena comes from a family of seven children — five brothers and two sisters. Her elder sister, Annie Jaise, is also a member of the same congregation. Sr. Teena recalls how her father was staunchly against her joining a religious order but she gradually convinced him that she wanted to choose a life of service through her religious calling. She says it took about two years to convince her father that she wanted to join the congregation after passing the SSLC (10th) examinations in 1972.

Pluralistic society

She points out that the Indian Constitution allows each religion to be free. It is also a fact that there are inter-caste and inter-religious marriages taking place in the country. It is the fact of a pluralistic society. The Indian example has been highlighted as one of tolerance and harmony across the world, she says, to highlight the impact of the statement by the bishop.

She is convinced that India does not belong to a particular community. All are guests here, who have come from different parts of the world. The call for harmony is all the more strong on that basis, she maintains. Though Kerala is described as ‘God’s own country’, there is a lot of deformity and anxiety in society now, she adds.

Sr. Teena is “surprised” how the bishop could come out so openly against a community even as the church had not come out in support of T.J. Joseph, a Professor of Malayalam at Newman College in Thodupuzha, in Idukki district, after he was brutally attacked by a group of Islamist extremists in 2010.

The college authorities, backed by the church, put him through hard times and the victim’s wife killed herself in despair, Sr. Teena says. She had also joined the demand in September 2018 for action against Bishop Franco Mulackal of Jalandhar, who was accused of sexually abusing a Catholic nun.

At 68, Sr. Teena recalls how the women religious communities are under the dispensation of the church hierarchy. Pointing out the hardships, she said nuns from her own congregation were asked to give up claims on a convent and related institutions in Njarakkal, near Kochi, which they had built over 60 years. The church authorities did not side with the nuns despite court orders.

Irrespective of the consequences, Sr. Teena is determined to fight on for the right causes. She says she has always sided with the victims as “Jesus has taught”.

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