Church leaders condemn play about nuns in India, calling it ‘offensive’

Crux [Denver CO]

March 18, 2023

By Nirmala Carvalho

Church leaders in Kerala, a state in southern India, have complained about a stage play which “wrongly portrays the convents as centers where nuns are made to work as slaves and abused.”

The play – Kakkukali – is staged by Alapuzha-based Neythal Nataka Sangham and written by K.B. Ajayakumar and directed by Job Madathil. It details the trials and tribulations faced by a Catholic woman from a coastal region who becomes a nun, against the wishes of her Communist father.

The play is based on a short story by Francis Noronha featured in the book Thottappan, which had been given an award by the local bishops’ council.

“Therefore, there may not be anything offensive in the short story, but some seem to be offended in the dramatization,” said Father Paul Thelakat, the former spokesman of the Syro-Malabar synod.

“It is alleged that there may be some Marxist infiltrations in the play,” the priest told Crux.

The play was showcased at the recent International Theatre Festival of Kerala organized by the state’s Marxist-led government.

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC), condemned the drama and said it went against the cultural fabric of Kerala and staging it was a blot on the culture of the state.

Kerala is considered the heartland of Christianity in India. Nearly 20 percent of the southern state’s 34 million people are Christian, and clergy and religious from the state serve across the country.

Cleemis is the Major Archbishop of Trivandrum and the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, an Eastern Rite Church headquartered in the state.

The state is also the home of the larger Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and has a large Latin Rite Catholic population.

A circular against the play was read at the 275-odd parishes of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Trichur during the Sunday Mass on March 12.

“The play wrongly portrays the convents as centers where nuns are made to work as slaves and abused. This is part of a growing trend to denigrate the Christian faith and the institutions run by the Church,” the letter says.

“The attempts to portray the belief systems and ritualistic practices of a religious community by spending funds from government coffers should be objected vehemently,” it continues.

Madathil has rejected the accusation the play is anti-Catholic.

“The play is not against the Church or the convent. It’s about any institution where a girl or a woman is denied freedom to live,” the director said in remarks reported by The Federal.

“We know how any institution, be it a monastery or something else, would treat someone who runs away from it. Noronha’s short story is multi-layered. Set in my locality, it has the essence of our day-to-day life,” he continued. “Being the son of a fisherman, I am proud of my culture and dialect. So, I had that connection with the premise of the story.”

Thelakat said the Church has bigger things to worry about.

“We have swallowed worse scandals from inside the church than of such art works,” the priest told Crux.

“There is the contradiction of ‘straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel.’ We should be tolerant to criticism and learn to ignore such artistic creations lest we advertise them too much,” Thelakat said.