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Sunday, June 11, 2023

Justice after 28 long years in Sister Abhaya murder case shows the clout of the Church

That the Church wields immense powers has been proven time and again. The recent verdict of the accused in the murder of Sister Abhaya proves once again why it is easy for the likes of Franco Mulakkal to gather support.

It took 28 long years for the wheels of law to move and deliver justice to a nun Sister Abhaya who was murdered in 1992 when she was just 18-years-old and studying pre-degree. The special CBI court in Thiruvananthapuram found Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy guilty of the murder and pronounced the verdict on Monday.

Special CBI Judge K Sanal Kumar found Kottoor guilty of offenses under sections 302 (murder), 201, (destruction of evidence), and 449 (criminal trespass) of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), and Sephy has been charged under sections 302 and 201.

It took 28 years for justice to be delivered which indicates not just the rot in the judicial system but also the clout that the Christian Church wields in both political and administrative circles. This case had all the classic elements that show what ails our system. A police officer KT Michael of the Kerala police special branch charged with destruction of evidence and co-accused Father Jose Poothrikkayil were both discharged by the court last year which held that the prosecution did not put up enough evidence against Jose.

The plea in the high court (HC) challenging the discharge of Jose was also dismissed by the HC. The trial for the 1992 case itself started only in August 2019 and nine prosecution witnesses turned hostile which should give us a fair idea of the kind of clout that the Church holds.

The CBI held that Sister Abhaya was murdered by Kottoor and Sephy as the former witnessed an intimate exchange between the two. The nun, who was only 18 years at the time, belonging to the Syro Malabar Catholic Church was found dead on 27th March 1992. Her body was found in a well of Pious Tenth Convent of Kottayam.

Initially, the case was concluded by the local police and state crime branch as a suicide case. Even the CBI which stepped in to investigate the case in 1993 filed three closure reports which were rejected by the court that ordered a further probe. A final closure report was filed by the CBI in 1996 citing inconclusive findings. The Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court (CJM) rejected this closure report as well.

The 1999 closure report, indicating a homicide but unable to identify the perpetrators, was also rejected by the court. Another CBI  team that investigated the case filed a report in 2005 ruling out the involvement of others in the murder case.

After such a prolonged delay in the investigation, alleged destruction of evidence by Kerala Special Branch officer KT Michael and as many as nine witnesses turning hostile, it was only after the HC order to expedite the case by holding day-to-day hearings in October this year that justice was finally delivered.

As per the statement of the CBI officer Nandakumaran Nair, who led the investigations, in the court, this was a case of sex and murder. This once again proves that why churches all over the world are under the scanner for offences such as sexual crimes against women, child sexual abuse, and other such serious crimes.

The connection between sexual and other crimes and the Church is a well-known one and yet the Church is able to escape unscathed every time owing to the clout it has. This was highlighted even during the rapist Bishop Franco Mulakkal case and the Church in that case, just like several others, backed the rapist Bishop rather than the victim.

Such cases take years, if not decades to come to the fore because the victims and their family and friends are pressurised to keep mum either due to threat of ostracization, or asked to compromise through settlement offers or at times their silence is bought by paying hush money. Speaking against the Church is stigmatized and victims and those in their support are discouraged to raise their voices against crimes by those in holding positions of authority within the Church.

In other words, the Church uses every trick up its sleeve from persuasion to coercion to outright threat and even murder to wriggle itself out of legal tangles. In Bharat, they additionally have the support of secular politicians and parties who bend over backwards to please them in the name of minority rights.

It is therefore not surprising that the Church gets away with the most heinous of crimes and the likes of Franco Mulakkal find support and protection under the Church ahead of the victims.

(Featured Image Source: Live Law)

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