- Victim: Fathima Sofiya, 17
- Accused: Fr H. Arockiaraj
- Crime: Rape, murder
- Place: St Stanislaus Church, Walayar, Palakkad
July 23, 2013
- Legal status: Trial yet to begin. Criminal Miscellaneous petition filed by Shanthi Roselin in the Kerala HC for change of the investigating agency.
Shanthi Roselin, 42, was in a Coimbatore hospital that day, looking after a relative, when she received a phone call from Fr Arockiaraj, parish priest of Stanislaus Church in Walayar, right on the forested border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In a highly agitated voice, he told her that her 17-year-old daughter, Fathima Sofiya, was dead. “He called me 37 times in the next few hours. He kept repeating the word ‘killed’…and then that she had committed suicide. I couldn’t believe she was dead,” says Roselin. “Some 15 of us rushed to the hospital in Walayar but she’d already been taken to the mortuary in Palakkad. By the time we reached there, it was past 5 pm and the mortuary was closed for the day. We had to go to the police station and sign the papers for the body to be released.” The Walayar police closed the case as suicide within two weeks. Almost 18 months later, Roselin found a note written by Sofiya about the relationship between her and the priest. That’s when she got suspicious and consulted lawyers and went back to Walayar to get the case reopened.
The family got to know Arockiaraj when he was the parish priest in St Michael’s church in Coimbatore in 2006. “My daughter was in Class 6 then; he was like a family member. We continued to be in touch with him after he was transferred to Valparai and Walayar. He would come and take Sofiya for Sunday school from here to Walayar. I trusted him so much, never thought he would her hurt so brutally. That day she left college early and went to Walayar in a taxi. Within half-an-hour of meeting him, she died in the guest room.” The post-mortem indicates she was raped. The ecclesiastical court had found Arockiaraj guilty of sexual misconduct and dismissed him. The police reopened the case, but there was no evidence to prove it was not suicide. Helped by a TV reporter who acted as her nephew, Roselin recorded Arockiaraj’s confession that it was an ‘accident’, which was aired on June 15, 2015. The minutes of the ecclesiastical court, now with the police, reveal four priests and the Bishop of Coimbatore, L. Thomas Aquinas, knew about the sexual relationship between the priest and the victim and had not reported the matter to the police. On December 6, Arockiaraj was arrested and Bishop Aquinas and priests Mudalaimuthu, Kulandairaj and Melqur were charged with giving false information.
- Victim: Jeesamol Devassia, 21
- Accused: Unnamed
- Place: San Jos Parish Hostel, Pavaratty, Thrissur
December 5, 2005
- Legal status: CBI closure report (28.1.16) calls it suicide. Binny Devassia files protest complaint asking for a thorough investigation.
There was an exam that day and Jeesamol, a final-year nursing student, was sent out of the hall for copying in the midwifery exam at around 9 am, says the CBI closure report. At 9.30 am, she was found hanging from a fan in her hostel room by her friend Sheeba. Her classmates cut the knot and rushed her to the hospital wing, but she was declared dead by 11.40 am. After the post-mortem, the vaginal swab and smear sent to the Regional Chemical Laboratory, Ernakulam, found semen and spermatozoa on the vaginal swab dated 12.06.2006—undetected by other labs in subsequent years. Jeesamol’s mother Binny Devassia thinks her daughter did not commit suicide as too many things don’t add up. “The churidar kameez she was wearing was only submitted to the police by the principal four days after her death. It was filled with blood identified as B group by the Regional Chemical Laboratory, Ernakulam; Jeesamol’s blood group was O positive. Her vagina was wiped clean with solution for urinary catheterisation to clean the excreta while trying to revive her. She was dressed in someone else’s clothes during the inquest. The room, which had drops of blood, was washed clean and not preserved as it was. Jeesamol’s answer sheet, which is crucial evidence, has been lost. There were too many lapses…I’m fighting to keep the investigations open.”
Jeesamol’s local guardian and human rights activist Anthony Chittattukara got to know about the incident around 3 pm. “When I saw her body in the casualty, she looked as if she was sleeping. Her eyes were not protruded, nor was her tongue bulging out. I went with the police to her room and found it washed. The dupatta was hanging from the fan; it was supposed to have been cut off but I could see the natural end. The ligature material was never handed to the police. The post-mortem clearly says all neck structures were intact. The neck has to break in the case of hanging. We immediately filed a writ petition in the high court.”
In 2013, the case was handed over to the CBI, after investigations by numerous police teams. The CBI painstakingly interviewed numerous inmates, nuns and priests at the hospital. Polygraph tests, done on three men, turned in negative results. “They tested the blood group of two priests, but made no mention of the blood group of the then hospital director. I feel they have not done a proper investigation,” says Devassia.
- Victim: Sister Abhaya, 21
- Accused: Fr Thomas Kottoor, Fr Jose Poothrukkayil
- Place: St Pius X Convent, Kottayam
March 27, 1992
- Legal status: Trial in the CBI special court, Thiruvananthapuram
For 25 years, the black-and-white passport photograph of a pale and gaunt Sr Abhaya has haunted Kerala. It has been the longest probe by the CBI for any given case. In 1992, the state police registered a case of unnatural death and, after 17 days, the Crime Branch was brought in. After nine months of investigation, it concluded Sr Abhaya had committed suicide by drowning because of mental depression. All material objects found on her body and at the scene of the crime were destroyed, allegedly by the Crime Branch team; so were all the photographs. On the state government’s request, the case was handed over to the CBI in March ’93.
CBI DySP Verghese P. Thomas, the investigating officer, wrote in the case diary that it was homicide. Later he resigned and told the press he had faced harassment from his superior, CBI SP V. Thyagarajan, to change the cause of death to suicide. On a petition, the case was handed to the CBI’s Delhi unit, which filed three closure refer reports—in 1996, 1999 and 2005—under different investigating CBI officers. All of them said they thought it was homicide, but could nothing since all evidence was destroyed. The chief judicial magistrate, Ernakulam, rejected the closure reports in all three instances and urged the CBI to continue investigating.
In 2007, a report appeared in The New Indian Express that the results of Sr Abhaya’s vaginal smear test were tampered with in the work register of the chief chemical examiner’s lab, Thiruvananthapuram. A truth serum test was conducted on two priests and a nun, but the report took its own time reaching the courts. The Action Council petitioned the CBI director that the probe team be changed. On November 18, 2008, a new police team arrested Fr Thomas Kottoor and Fr Jose Poothrukkayil, both then professors at BCM College, and Sr Sephy, resident of St Pius hostel. On June 27, 2015, a supplementary final report was filed in the CBI special court, Thiruvananthapuram. For one-and-a-half years, neither the accused nor their lawyers have been appearing in the courts. On December 9, 2016, Justice P.V. Balakrishnan said, “The petitioner is appearing, but the accused are not appearing. This is against justice.”