Novice’s death in India puts spotlight on tragedies over three decades

Global Sisters Report via NCR

September 24, 2020

By Saji Thomas

THIRUVALLA, INDIA — On the morning of May 7, Divya P. John, a 21-year-old novice with the Basilian Sisters near here, attended class as usual, a church spokesman says. But an hour later, around noon, her body was found in a well at the convent. Rescuers retrieved the body and bypassed a nearby public hospital to transport it to a diocesan hospital farther away.

A subsequent autopsy found the cause of death to be drowning, but no time of death was given. Church officials did not seek a police crime scene investigation into the mystery of how she died, labeling the tragedy a probable suicide.

John’s untimely death is the latest in close to 20 others since 1987 involving novices and sisters serving in Catholic communities in Kerala state in southern India.

The most notable was the murder of Sister Abhaya, whose body was found in 1992 at the bottom of her convent’s well in Kottayam. Originally dismissed as a suicide, that case took a turn in 2008 after a criminal investigation deemed her death was a murder. Now, almost three decades after Abhaya’s death, a priest and nun charged with her murder are undergoing a trial that only began in August 2019.

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