Kerala nun’s murder: No justice even after 20 years

published on March 28, 2012

sensational case pertaining to the murder of Sr Abhaya, an 18-year-old Catholic nun in Kerala’s Kottayam district, is still remaining as a huge question mark before the Kerala society as justice is refusing to reach the bereaved family even after 20 years of probe: First by the local Kerala Police, then their Crime Branch and after that by four different teams of the CBI.

The Sr Abhaya murder case is a typical example of how people with power and influence can derail even the most meticulous investigations. The Crime Branch concluded the case as one of suicide. Then the CBI said it was murder but reported to the court that the culprits could not be caught as all the evidences had disappeared or had been destroyed.

After over 15 years of investigations, the nation’s premier probe agency identified three “culprits”, arrested them and produced them before the court in 2008 but the case has not moved ahead from that point. Trial in the case is yet to start but the CBI is still to be ready for that as it has to get more evidences against the accused.

The last story Kerala heard from the CBI was that Fr Thomas M Kottoor, Jose Puthrukayil, two senior priests of the highly influential Knanaya Catholic Church to which Sr Abhaya belonged, and a senior nun Sr Sephy had murdered Sr Abhaya because they thought the victim had seen them in sexually explicit postures in a back room of the convent in the unearthly hour of night.

The body of Sr Abhaya, a pre-degree student, was found in a well in the compound of the St Pius X Convent in Kottayam, where she was an inmate, on the morning of March 27, 1992. The local police carried out all the preliminary procedures. But all the strands of evidence that the police collected from the crime scene mysteriously disappeared or were destroyed later.

The Crime Branch took over the probe later but it concluded that this was a case of suicide. After several representations from nun’s father Thomas Aikarakunnel, persistent demands of the Sr Abhaya Action Council and the untiring efforts of human rights activist Jomon Puthenpurakkal, the CBI started investigations on March 29, 1993.

The CBI enhanced the Kerala society’s hopes with its outwardly convincing probe techniques like the dummy test, which was replicated in several Malayalam thriller movies later. Despair replaced hope for the society when CBI DySP Varghese P Thomas, who was supervising the probe, resigned on December 30 that year when seven more years were left for his retirement.

The CBI submitted its first probe report on November 29, 1996, stating that it could not determine whether Abhaya had committed suicide or had been murdered. The court did not accept the report. The second CBI report submitted on July 9, 1999 said that Abhaya was murdered but it could not establish the identity the culprits. The court rejected this too.

On 25 August 2005, the agency issued another report, concluding that there was no indication that anyone was involved in Abhaya’s death. Naturally, the court turned down this report also. On September 4, 2008, the court handed over the investigation to the Kerala branch of the CBI and this created a feeling that something could happen finally.

The CBI team headed by DySP Nandakumaran Nair of the agency’s Kochi unit on November 9, 2008 arrested Fr Thomas Kottoor (54), diocesan chancellor of the Knanaya Catholic Church in Kottayam, Fr Jose Puthrukayil (55), principle of a college run by the church, and Sr Sephy (48), an inmate of the St Pius X Convent where Sr Abhaya lived and was killed.

Forty months have passed since the arrests were made but the trial in the case has not started yet even as the Kerala society has seemingly lost all hopes about a just conclusion to the case. On the 20th anniversary of the murder, Jomon Puthenpurakkal has again written to the CBI director requesting for more effective steps to take the probe further

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