16 years on, two priests, nun held for Sister Abhaya’s murder (Second Lead)

November 19th, 2008 - 8:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Kochi, Nov 19 (IANS) Sixteen years after Sister Abhaya’s body was found in the well of a Kerala convent, investigations into her murder finally made some headway Wednesday with the arrest of two Catholic priests and a nun.In the first arrests in the case, Father Jose Putarika, 56, a former Malayalam professor at the Kottayam college where Abhaya studied, and Thomas Kottor, 61, the Diocesan chancellor of the Catholic Church at Kottayam, were picked up by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Tuesday. The third, 45-year-old Sister Seffi, who belonged to the same convent as Abhaya, was arrested Wednesday.

The three, who were subjected to a truth serum test in Bangalore last year, were remanded in CBI custody till Dec 2. A huge crowd thronged the chief judicial magistrate’s court, and shouts of “shame, shame” were heard as people pushed and shoved to get a glimpse of the three custodians of faith.

Inside the court, the judge refused bail for the accused and turned down the demand that they be questioned in presence of their counsel. However, the magistrate did caution the CBI, which had been under pressure to make an arrest in the case, that questioning be done without any physical torture.

Abhaya, a resident of Pious X Hostel near here, was found dead in the well of the Kottayam convent March 27, 1992. The CBI concluded in November 1996 that the death was a homicide but the murderer remained untraced. The Kerala police had earlier dismissed the case as suicide.

Addressing reporters after the three arrested for their suspected involvement in the murder were brought before the court, CBI Joint Director Ashok Kumar said the case would be taken to its logical conclusion in under 30 days.

“It is the endeavour of the CBI to complete the investigation of the case as expeditiously as possible and as directed by the Kerala High Court,” he said.

The sudden turn of events took place after the new investigation team - this was the 13th CBI team investigating the murder after the 12 previous probes failed to crack the case - questioned Sanju Mathew, whose house adjoins the convent.

Mathew, who was picked up by the CBI last week, testified that he was a student at the time and was studying that night. In the early hours of March 27, he went out to have tea when he found Father Thomas Kottor’s two-wheeler.

Abhaya’s elderly father Thomas said he was happy that the CBI had finally made an arrest.

“We want to know more details… This arrest is going to be a big boost for the closing of the case; don’t worry, if there is a god, the case will be solved and the truth will come out,” Thomas told reporters.

However, the Kottayam Diocese of the Church said the latest developments were suspicious.

“In the 16 years of the investigation, various teams looked into the case and could not find anything,” a Church press release stated, adding that it was surprising that in four days the team got clues leading to the arrests.

“The arrested are innocent and if a proper investigation is initiated then the real truth would come out.”

The Kerala High Court last month rapped the investigating agency over the slow progress in its probe and asked the Kerala unit of the CBI to take over.

Public interest in the case was re-ignited in April last year after a newspaper reported that ASister Abhaya’s medical reports were tampered with at a Thiruvananthapuram laboratory.

Responding to the arrests, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said the way events unfolded have shown that “some people command a lot of respect but incidents like this prove that this very same people can do otherwise also”.

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