Abhaya murder case remains a mystery

: It has been two decades since the body of Sister Abhaya was found in the well of the hostel she was staying in at Kottayam. The death, which was reported in the obituary column of newspapers, later triggered a chain of events — investigative, legal, social and religious in the next 20 years. However, the Sr Abhaya murder case is not yet closed.

The body of the 19-year-old novitiate of St. Joseph's Congregation under the Knanaya Catholic diocese, was found in the well at the Pope Pius X Convent Hostel on March 27, 1992.

The investigation by the local police was taken over by the Crime Branch the next month, but the investigations came to the conclusion that it was a case of suicide.

Complaints were raised against the style of investigation and an Action Council was formed under the leadership of rights activist Joemon Puthenpurackel. Later, 67 nuns submitted a memorandum to the State government seeking a CBI inquiry into the death.

On March 23, the CBI took over the investigation, with Varghese P. Thomas as the investigating officer.

Things took a turn for the worse when in December that year, Mr. Thomas resigned and called a press conference alleging interference in the investigations by his higher officer.

Incidentally, the CBI has so far submitted at least three ‘final reports' in the case. The first of these reports, submitted in 1996, could not establish whether it was a case of suicide or homicide; the second one, three years later, established it as a case of homicide, but could not determine the perpetrators.

In 2005, they submitted another final report based on which four persons, including two priests of the Knanaya diocese, Fr Jose Poothrukayil and Fr. Thomas M. Kottoor, then chancellor of the archdiocese, and a nun Sr. Stephi and a neighbour of the hostel were sent for narcoanalysis.

The CBI arrested the three on November 19, 2008. Things again took a controversial turn when just seven days later, on November 25, V.V. Augustine, assistant sub-inspector who conducted autopsy on the body of Sr. Abhaya, committed suicide.

The case also gave rise to a legal controversy when two judges of Kerala High Court took opposing views during the hearing of the bail application of Sr. Stephi in 2009.

The case still is shuttling between the higher courts — at present, the one regarding the need to subject three more persons to narcoanalysis is pending . The three accused are out on bail.

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