Bengaluru: Biju Thomas, the elder brother of Sister Abhaya, is left with regret even as his sister’s killers face life imprisonment 28 years after her murder.
“I only wish they had left my sister alone,” he said, speaking to ThePrint from Dubai, where he is based.
Sister Abhaya, 21, was found dead on 27 March 1992 — her body was recovered from a well at St Pius X Convent, Kottayam, where she lived. The Kerala Police had initially ruled her death a suicide but an investigation by the CBI — handed over the case after some nuns alleged the investigation hadn’t been conducted properly — established it was a homicide.
Earlier this week, a court convicted Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy of murder and destruction of evidence, and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
According to the case built by the CBI, the two killed the young nun after she saw them in a compromising position in the early hours of 27 March. The affair constituted a violation of the vow of celibacy that binds the clergy in some Christian orders, and the convicts killed Abhaya for fear of being exposed.
However, Biju, who describes Abhaya as a calm and innocent person, said she probably wouldn’t have said a word to anyone.
“Had the perpetrators warned her to keep quiet, she would have. Instead, they silenced her forever,” he said.
“She was not talkative,” he added. “Those monsters took her innocence for granted and instead of warning her… they killed her. God has finally intervened and given them their due,” he said.
‘Void that can’t be filled’
Thomas, now 51, said he was never in favour of Abhaya joining the convent. But she was eager to dedicate her life to helping others, and stood fast on her chosen path, he added.
“When I asked her to reconsider her decision to become a nun… She said she wanted to help people and the only way was to dedicate herself to Christ and learn the scriptures,” he said.
“I was quite naive then. I asked her to finish her religious studies and come back home to get married. She laughed and told me that once she becomes a nun, there would be no turning back,” he added.
Speaking about their growing-up years , Thomas said Abhaya was an introvert since childhood and would not harm anybody.
According to Thomas, he was doing a hotel management course in Gujarat when Abhaya died. At the time, he said, he received a letter from a friend of his sister who just mentioned that something “unfortunate” had happened to her.
He first thought it was an accident, since Abhaya had said in a letter two weeks before that she was to go on a tour.
“When I got the letter, I was told to return to Kerala immediately. Those days we had no money. I had just Rs 120 in my pocket,” he said.
When he arrived at the mortuary, he added, a person “came up to me and told me that somebody has killed her”.
The CBI described the sequence of events in its chargesheet — Abhaya woke up around 4 am on 27 March and was coming down the stairs towards the convent kitchen to drink water when she saw the two accused in a compromising position.
The duo subsequently attacked her — including with an axe — and pushed her into a well nearby.
The role of Kottoor and Sephy came to light in 2008, when the then CBI Deputy Superintendent of Police Nandakumaran Nair arrested the duo along with one Father Jose Puthrukayil, who was later discharged by the Kerala High Court for lack of evidence.
Since the start of the investigation, activist Jomon Puthenpurackal has been at the forefront of calls for justice for the slain nun. Speaking to ThePrint, Jomon said “it was visible at every stage that Sr Abhaya was murdered”.
“The investigating officers (initially) turned a blind eye and wanted to close the case, calling it a suicide. I decided to fight till the end,” he added.
As Thomas has been based in Dubai, he has often encountered criticism for leaving the fight for justice to their father, who ran from pillar to post trying to get the media to expose the “perpetrators”. Thomas, however, said though he had to go to Dubai for work, he had been an active part of his sister’s case since Day One.
“I was the one who went and received her autopsy report. It showed that her body had 375 ml of water,” he said. “For a person who drowns, you won’t find such a small amount of water in the body. I knew that very day that it was murder. People may say whatever they please, but I lost my sister and that void cannot be filled,” he added.