This murder case is the longest running case in the history of criminal cases in Kerala. Sister Abhaya’s body was found 28 years ago in the well of the nuns’ hostel she used to stay in. On Tuesday, the CBI found a pastor and a nun guilty for her murder.
Judge K Sanal Kumar of the Special CBI Court in Thiruvananthapuram will sentence 69-year-old Pastor Father Thomas Kottur and 55-year-old Sister Sefi on Wednesday.
The court has found both guilty of eradicating important evidence, including that of murder. Father Kottur has been charged additionally with criminal conspiracy.
In the night of 26 March 1992, 19 year pre-degree student Abhaya, staying in the hostel of Pious Tenth Convent in Kottayam, was assaulted. This hostel used to be run by the Kananya Catholic Church.
Sister Abhaya had to get up early in the morning to prepare for her exams. Her roommate Sister Shirley woke her up for a final preparation at 4, in the wee hours. Sister Abhaya got up and went to the kitchen to wash her face with cold water. As she left the room, that was the last time Sister Shirley saw her alive.
The prosecution alleges that when Sister Abhaya reached the kitchen, she found Father Thomas Kottur, Sister Sefi and Father Puttrikayal engaged in a sexual activity.
The prosecution says that to make sure Sister Abhaya did not reveal their secret, Father Kottur strangled her and Sister Sephy attacked her with an axe. Later, these three together threw Sister Abhaya into the well of the convent.
Biju Thomas, brother of Sister Abhaya, who lives in Dubai, said, “When I came to know about the court’s decision, I did not understand whether I should be happy. I have mixed feelings. I did not expect the court verdict to arrive today. “
“My parents will be very happy with this decision, they will be sitting in paradise and watching everything. Four years ago, within four months time I lost both,” the brother of Sister Abhaya said.
Biju, who works in a hotel for a living, says, “Abhaya was two years younger than me. When she was 14-15-year-old, she would plead with us to let her become a nun. My father would be upset with her. But our house is blessed. She had been influenced by the sight of reverence that our family gave to the clerics and nuns as and when they would come visiting..”
The brother says that when Abhaya died, “my parents knew it was murder. But we were very poor and were not able to take the matter to the court. But many people, like the Action Council (an NGO) came forward and they carried forward our fight. “
The then Deputy Superintendent of Police, Varghese P Thomas said, “It was clearly a case of murder. She was hit on her head and later, thinking she had died, they threw her body into a well. When this case was referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), I was the investigating officer in the case.”
A delegation of nuns, led by the convent’s chief Mother Superior, met the then Chief Minister K Karunakaran and demanded that the state government hand over the case to the CBI. They complained that first the local police and then the crime branch were not investigating the matter properly. They suspected that Abhaya had been killed.
In 1993, the CBI began investigating this case and by the end of the year Thomas and his team came to the conclusion that it was a case of suicide.
Now the 76-year-old Thomas says, “The officers wanted this case to be closed by calling it a suicide case. They did not want any pending case. I opposed it and resigned from the job.”
Advocate Sandhya Raju (who has no connection with the Abhaya case), who has been monitoring the case for years on end, says, “But this is historic because most attempts have been made to close the case without reaching any conclusion”
“When the high court ordered that the matter should be properly investigated, a serious investigation began. There have been many attempts to tamper with the evidence and even the narco-analysis recording, But the high court did not accept it. “
At least three times, the CBI said that Sister Abhaya had not committed suicide but was killed. But the team failed to reach the culprits.
The chief judicial magistrate court as well as the high courts refused to accept the CBI report. In 2008, the high court gave the CBI three months to submit the agency’s report.
The CBI found a person named Sanju Mathew living next to the convent who testified under Section 164 that in the night of 26 March 1992, he had seen Father Kottur in the hostel premises.
Following the testimony, the CBI team arrested Father Thomas Kottur, Sister Sefi and Father Puttrikayal.
The CBI team caught a thief named Adarka Raju who said that he had seen two priests in the hostel premises that night.
Jomon Puthenparakkal of Action Council, an NGO that runs campaigns to arrest Abhaya’s criminals, said, “It was already clear that this was not a case of suicide. There was evidence in the kitchen that someone had been strangled in that room. Sister Abhaya’s slippers were lying in two different places in the kitchen. If a person wakes up to study at 4 in the morning, she would not have suicide on her mind. All these pieces of evidence were enough for me to tell that the matter was complicated.”
Sandhya Raju says, “There is no doubt that this is the longest-running criminal case in the state.”
This court pronouncement of guilt has once again raised questions on the approach of dealing with the accused.
Father Augustine Vattolli, former convenor of Save Our Sisters, says, “Those who were accused continued to be pastors. The church did not break ties with them. The church can at least take steps to suspend them. If they later If not found guilty, then reinstate him as a pastor. “
Father Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the pastor of the Jalandhar Diocese, was alleged to have raped a nun. After the incident, an institution called Save Our Sisters was formed. This case is currently in the trial court and a full recording of the hearing of the case is going on.