Sister Abhaya Murder Case: an Overview

Indian Catholic
November 19, 2008

KOCHI (ICNS): The dramatic arrest of two Catholic priests and a nun for their "suspected involvement" in the 16 year old murder case of a nun has shocked the nation.

The case concerns Sister Abhaya, a 21-year old nun of St. Joseph's Congregation. She was a pre-university student in BCM collage Kottayam and was an inmate of St Pius X convent. Here is the chronology of events.

On the morning of 27 March 1992, the nun was found dead in a water well of her convent .

People suspect foul play although convent authorities said it was a suicide. They formed an Action Council on 31 March 1992.

The state police investigated the case but concluded it as suicide.

Action Council's persistent demands force the government move the case to Crime Branch section of the Kerala Police on 7 April 1992.

The Crime Branch submitted its report before the Sub-Divisional Magistrate on 30 January 1993, saying it was a suicide.

Action Council approaches the High Court of Kerala, invoking its special jurisdiction in a writ petition for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the highest investigating agency in India.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's premier investigating agency, started investigating the unnatural death of Sister Abhaya on 29 March 1993, under the direct supervision of its officer Varghese P. Thomas.

While the CBI investigation was in progress, an officer who earlier investigated the case obtained written permission from the RDO (Rural Development Officer) to take possession of Abhaya's personal articles - her veil, slipper, personal diary and such other personal goods, evidence for the case and reportedly destroyed them.

On 30 December 1993, Varghese P. Thomas resigned from the service of CBI and from the investigation of the cases. He told media that he had concluded it as murder but decided to resign from the job because pressure was put on him to derail the investigation.

On 19 January 1994, he called a special press conference in Cochin and announced that he had resigned from CBI as his conscience did not permit him to comply with a strong directive given by his superior officer, V. Thyagarajan, the then Superintendent of CBI Cochin Unit, who had asked Varghese P. Thomas to record the death of Abhaya as suicide in the CBI Diary.

The press conference becomes a turning point as it attracted national media attention for its allegations against the top most investigating agency in the country. The case was discussed in national parliament as well as in the Kerala state assembly on several occasions.

On 3 June 1994 all the MP's from Kerala State jointly submitted a passionate petition to K. Vijaya Rama Rao, the Director of the CBI requesting him to disallow Thyagarajan to continue in the Abhaya's murder case.

On the 7 April 1995, using a full-sized dummy of Sister Abhaya, the CBI made some experimental tests in the well where her corpse was found.

On 17 April 1995 Forensic experts submitted their formal report to the CBI investigation team to the effect that her death was clearly murder. Subsequently the CBI declared that the killers would soon be arrested.

But no arrest happened. Protest of Action Council continued. One such protest was staged in front of the CBI office at Cochin on 27 November 1995.

On 18 March 1996 another protest rally was organized under the former chief minister of the state, E.K. Nayanar, in front of the state secretariate, at Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital.

On 1 July 1996 the Action Council filed a petition in the High Court challenging the inaction of the CBI. The High Court passed an order in the petition on 20 August 1996 directing the CBI to complete its investigation in three months from the date of the order.

On 12 October 1996 all the MPs from Kerala together visited the Prime Minister and jointly pleaded with him to expedite the CBI investigation into the death of Abhaya.

On 6 December 1996 the CBI filed a petition in the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court, Ernakulam, seeking permission of the court to wind up its investigation in the matter. They agreed it was a murder, but said they could not trace the culprits.

In response to that, the father of Sr. Abhaya, Thomas, filed a counter petition in the court on 18 January 1997 to against dismissing the and closing investigation.

On 20 March 1997, the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) directed the CBI to re-investigate the case. The court in its order criticized the CBI for its vested interests to defeat the ends of justice.

The Action Council, again on 30 May 1997 filed a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court of Kerala against the non-compliance of the CJM's directive for re-investigation.

The High Court in its order directed the CBI to report back to the court the progress it had made in the investigation in ten days from the date of the order.

Noting the CBI's lack of, the High Court directed suo moto the Director of the CBI to appoint a special team from New Delhi to investigate the matter.

P.D. Meena, the Superintendent of the CBI from New Delhi and his team undertook a month-long investigation and reported to the High Court. The CBI was satisfied that the death of Abhaya was in fact murder. However, the CBI report said that due to lack of evidence it was not possible to go further into the matter.

The High Court again on 28 September 1998 directed the CBI to file its final report of the re-investigation on or before 12 October 1998.

A major breakthrough came on 12 April 2007 when The New Indian Express daily reported that original chemical examination report of the vaginal swab and vaginal smear of Abhaya has been found to have been tampered with.

The manuscript of the workbook report from the Chemical Examination Laboratory shows over-writing at four places. Using a whitener and a different ink, the word "not" has been added before the word "detected," so as to contradict the result for testing semen detection in vagina.

According to a news report in a local daily CBI investigation has come to a conclusion that the Sister Abhaya was murdered according to a pre plan. According to that report Abhaya witnessed some thing happening illegal, days before her murder. Her killers wanted to terminate her to spoil that evidence. The crime was committed knowing that she will come to the kitchen to drink water from the refrigerator at early morning and it was done with the help of more than two people.

According to media theory on of the priests bludgeoned the nun when she came to drink water early morning. The two priests and the arrested nun then allegedly dumped the younger nun in the well.

The CBI tam has conducted a Narco Analysis tests on the suspected prrst Father Thomas M. Kottoor and Fr. Jose Poothrikkayil and Sister Sephy.

On 11 December 2007 the team submitted a report to the court saying it was trying to unravel the mystery behind the "unnatural death of Sister Abhaya." It didn't speak of any progress.

On January 11, 2008, the Kerala High Court directed the CBI to produce the result of the Narco-analysis test conducted on the suspects in the case in a sealed cover before the court within two weeks.

The court further directed that no third person having any right of disclosure of the content of the results till the appropriate stage, other than the High Court.

The CBI submitted it before the court on January 21, 2008.

The results were submitted in a sealed cover as directed by the court.

On 26th August 2008, the High Court of Kerala accused that the CBI also lied in this case with regards to the handling of evidence.

In September the court asks CBI to hand over the case to its Kerala branch and form a team with officials who can speak local language. A Kerala team takes charge.

Early November the team visits Kottayam. A week later they reportedly detained a young man who lives nearby the convent. His father worked in the convent.

On November second week, they picked up the two priests for questioning. Police registered their arrest on Nov. 18 and informed their relatives.

On Nov. 19 they arrest Sister Sephi and produce the three before the court. The court allows the police have them in custody for 14 days to help further investigation.


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