Death of a nun

Death of a nunEven after 15 years, a catholic nun's suspected rape and murder haunts the church and the CBI in KeralaJeemon Jacob ThiruvananthapuramA murder is haunting Kerala. And clearly, in what is known as the 'Sister Abhaya Case', the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has done precious little to save its credibility as the prime investigating agency of the country. According to reports in a daily, a chemical examination report of April 10, 1992, stated that Sister Abhaya was raped and murdered and that semen found in her vagina was later tampered with by the chief chemical examiner. The report says that whitener has been used at four places and the word "not" has been inserted before "detected" in a bid to contradict the result.   Chief Chemical Examiner R Goethe, who was the head of the toxicology section in 1992 and supervised the tests, defended her action as routine. She said she had corrected the reports after verifying the tests. She denies there was any manipulation or fabrication. However, according to S Soman, Chief Judicial Magistrate, Thiruvananthapuram, the chemical examination report conducted on the deceased was tampered with; he directed the police to confiscate the records from the chemical examiner's laboratory. The police raided the laboratory and produced documents. The CBI later requested the court to hand over the original copy of the chemical examination report conducted on the deceased but the court refused to oblige. Three months ago the chief judicial magistrate received an anonymous letter stating that the chemical examination's analytical report of Sister Abhaya's body and clothes were tampered with. He handed the letter to the CBI, but they did not move. Hardnews got a copy of the original report that stated, "semen was detected in the vaginal swab and smear". But the laboratory record was tampered with and "no" was inserted in the statement that now reads "no semen was detected in the vaginal swab and smear". Sister Abhaya was found dead in a well in Pius X convent in Kottayam on March 27, 1992. She joined St. Joseph's Congregation for Women in 1990. She was a second year student at the pre-university course in BCM College under the diocese of Kottayam and was a resident of St. Pius X Convent.  When the body was found, church authorities told the media that she had committed suicide. They revealed that she was preparing for her higher secondary examination and was undergoing treatment for mental illness. Nobody challenged the suicide story, although evidence pointed at the possibility of a murder. Later, investigations by the police and crime branch 'confirmed' that she had committed suicide. Locals suspected something uncanny about the investigations. A public interest litigation was filed in the high court demanding a CBI probe. Joemon Puthenpura, an activist based in Kottayam, took up the case and the   legal battle. The court ordered a CBI probe on March 29, 1993. The CBI filed an interim investigation report stating that Abhaya was murdered, but it could not identify the culprits. The CBI sought the permission of the court to wind up the investigation. The chief judicial magistrate court in Ernakulam rejected the plea. The CBI conducted lie detector tests on two priests associated with BCM College, Kottayam, and found them not guilty. According to Father Jacob Velliyan, Vicar General of Kottayam Archdiocese, Abhaya's suspected murder has damaged the image of the church. "We are sad about the new revelations. We don't know anything more than what's printed in the newspapers," Father Velliyan said. He clarified that the church will not protect the guilty. "Let the truth come out and the culprits be punished. As a priest and member of Knanaya community, I'm not worried about the investigations," he said.  Father Paul Thelakkat, spokesperson of the Syrio-Malabar Church based in Kochi, said, "It has been almost 15 years since the incident took place. The police and the CBI have been looking into it. Did none of them find out that the medical reports were tampered with?" The church is of the opinion that the media has gone hyper and is damaging the reputation of the clergy and the church. This is highly unethical.Not everyone agrees. Joemon Puthenpura argues, "The church leaders should explain how sister Abhaya was murdered and who killed her." Puthenpura led the sustained agitation and legal battle against the 'cover up' of the ‘murder’ for the last 15 years.  "Now the truth is out. The church leaders should tell the truth and bring the culprits before law and they should all be punished," he said.