Making A Difference

The Lady And The Bishop

Did the cleric ravage the model or is he being framed?

The Lady And The Bishop
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The Bishop had been detained by the police for questioning at Gatwick airport on December 12 regarding allegations levelled by Thomasin Magor, a British model-turned-photographer, who was sitting next to him on the nine-hour flight, that he had attempted to "indecently assault her".

The Sunday Times, London, which broke the story, had stated that a senior aide of the Archbishop of Canterbury—the Church of England and the CNI have close links—had called the Gatwick police to inquire whether Mohanty was to be charged, after which the cleric was released. The report, however, denies the church having used undue influence.

Speaking on behalf of Mohanty, Rev A.K. Pradhan of the Cuttack Diocese said: "The Bishop feels that the female co-passenger had a sort of superiority complex and her rudeness was proof of her racist attitude."

Magor refused to add to her original charges till the statement of the flight purser, to whom she initially complained, is given to her, as she feels it would add weight to her complaint. According to Mary Ann Fitzgerald of the Sunday Times: "Magor feels the allegation that her complaint was racially motivated is a cheap shot." Her colleague, Lesley Thomas, says there have been similar incidents in the past, with one person's word against the other's, when the police pressed charges.

Magor accuses the Most Reverend Mohanty of "putting a blanket over me, touching my arms and legs, and trying to massage my neck". Mohanty says that the dispute was over access to the armrest between the two seats. According to him: "She (Magor) was restless and kept taking pills frequently...repeatedly intruded into my seat space and kept pushing my elbow off the armrest. She was very rude when I objected and threatened me. News of the incident was fed to the press on Christmas Eve, 12 days after the incident took place, which confirms the fact that her allegation was mischievous and racist."

Gatwick police would only say that "charges had not been pressed due to insufficient evidence". The duty sergeant refused to comment on the role, if any, played by the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and whether they are trying to get in touch with the flight purser.

The incident seems to have wrought havoc on a "very shaken" Mohanty, who refused to comment further on the issue. Senior officials in the CNI, which comprises six major Indian churches excluding the Catholic, speak of his reputation having come "under a cloud" after the episode.

According to Dr V.S. Lall, general secretary of the CNI, "neither Magor nor the Archbishop of Canterbury has written to me demanding any action as reported in the press". Adds another senior clergyman, "Mohanty has served the Church for well over 25 years and there has never been even a whiff of a scandal. He has held some of the seniormost positions in the Church during his career, he has been married for nearly three decades and has four grown-up children. This allegation has terrified him."

Whatever the truth behind the incident, it has indicated that in such a situation stereotypes are flogged mercilessly, though not necessarily by the protagonists themselves. The images that have flashed through are diameterically opposite: a Third World cleric who has worked his way up the ecclesiastical order by dint of hard work being unjustly accused of molestation by a neurotic, pill-popping model. Conversely, the unwell mother who has been working in Kenya as a photographer for years, fell a victim to the predatory instincts of a dirty old man when she boarded the London-bound flight. Both images seem grotesque caricatures. And are completely irrelevant to the issue at hand—whether Bishop Mohanty is guilty or not.

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