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July 13, 1999


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CBI seeks closure of unresolved Sister Abhaya case

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D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram

The Central Bureau of Investigation has sought the closure of the sensational Sister Abhaya case without identifying the culprit(s) behind the death of the 21-year-old nun.

The case had rocked the Karunakaran government with allegations that it had tried to suppress the investigation under pressure from religious leaders belonging to the powerful Knanaya Catholic Christian community. It snowballed into a major controversy after CBI deputy superintendent of police Thomas P Varghese resigned from the agency alleging pressure on him to close the case as a suicide.

The present team, appointed following a directive of the Kerala High Court in 1994, has not been able to make any progress in identifying the culprit(s) behind the death of Sister Abhaya of St Pious X Convent, Kottayam. Though the CBI has left no room for doubt that the sister was killed and lowered into a well, it has pleaded helplessness in establishing the identity of the culprit (s) despite its best efforts. It has also sought to put the blame on the state police and the crime branch, which investigated the case initially. The final report submitted by the CBI to the Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate has accused the state police of tampering with the evidence.

According to the report, the lapses on the part of the state police include failures to preserve the internal organs of the deceased, to record the marks of injury on her body, to prepare the sketch of the spot on which the incident occurred, refusal to give the police diary to the CBI and preparation of the inquest report in the absence of witnesses. The report also faulted the police for not submitting the undergarments of the deceased to the police surgeon for examination.

Since these evidence were required for establishing the homicide theory, how they would have led to the identification of the culprit is anybody's guess. In 1997 the Ernakulam CJM court had rejected an earlier CBI report and had directed it to conduct a sincere, honest and impartial investigation.

The main suspects in the case are two Catholic priests Father Jose Putrukayal and Father Thomas Kattoor who had close links with the convent and had a reputation for being immoral. The two priests, who are now abroad, were subjected to polygraph tests which however failed to implicate them.

The CJM's court did not rely on the polygraph tests, as it felt it is not sufficiently accurate and can be misused. The court said that the result of the test depends upon the mental strength of the person concerned. Incidentally, one of the two priests subjected to the tests was a lecturer in psychology.

The case was related to the immoral relations some of the inmates had with outsiders. It is said that the persons who were behind it had done Abhaya to death after she caught them in compromising positions on that fatal day.

In fact the hostel, where nuns and homeless girls stayed together, did not have a good reputation. Two girls from the hostel had run away with some boys a few years ago. The CBI report says that Sister Abhaya was a normal girl with sound morals.

She was found to be normal and balanced on the fatal day, the preceding days and even minutes before her death. "It is not believable that a normal person would remove her slippers and veil before committing suicide or disturb the articles that came in her way as seen in the present case," the report said.

The CBI banks on the expert opinion of Dr S K Pathak, Head of Forensic Medicine, SMS College, Jaipur and Dr Mahesh Verma to conclude the case as a homicide. The CBI report said that the injuries found on the body could not have been inflicted by a fall into the well. It supports the expert opinion that the death could have been caused by two separate impacts and the possibility of their having been caused by two blows with a blunt object.

The Sister Abhaya Case Action Council, which has been pursuing the case from the very beginning, believes that the present CBI team was also not free from pressure. They felt that the CBI could have resolved the case by prosecuting the officials responsible for tampering with the evidence.

In fact the action council has urged the state government to prosecute the then crime branch Deputy Superintendent of Police K T Michael and revenue divisional officer and present collector of Palakkad S G K Kishore for tampering with the evidence. The present government, led by the Marxists, is yet to heed their plea.

Action Council convenor Jomon Puthanpurackal told that they would plead before the Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate for the prosecution of the two when the CBI's final report comes up next month for consideration. He alleged that foul play in the investigation was evident from the very beginning. According to him, the local police had prepared the inquest report even before the body was taken out from the well. The record shows that the inquest report was prepared at 8.30 AM while the body was taken out by the fire brigade at 10.30 AM.

The first breakthrough in the investigation was made in April 1995, when A K Antony became the chief minister. Under pressure from the Antony government, forensic experts were deputed by the Centre and they discounted the theory of suicide by conducting dummy tests.

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