A framed black and white image of a nun welcomes you at the apartment of Biju Thomas, an Indian national from Kerala, in Dubai. The photo on Thomas’s wall is that of his sibling, Sister Abhaya, a face familiar to every Malayalee.
Talking about his deceased sister to Khaleej Times, the 47-year-old Thomas said: “A 23-year-old from Kerala visited me recently. He saw her picture and said, ‘Biju chetta, isn’t that the dead nun Sister Abhaya?’. Even a child who was born after her death knows who she is.”
Sister Abhaya, a resident nun of the Pius X Convent in Kottayam, Kerala, was found dead inside a well on its premises in March 1992, under mysterious circumstances.
Her death at age 19 remains a mystery even after a lengthy, convoluted and unsatisfactory series of inquiries by various official investigating bodies. The case, ongoing for the last 26 years, is by far the longest-running murder investigation in the southern state.
Initially, both the local investigation agency Crime Branch, and India’s federal probe agency – the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – termed the death a suicide, but human rights activist Joemon Puthenpurackal formed an action council and pursued the case all these years. Last week, the CBI special court in Thiruvananthapuram discharged Catholic priest Jose Poothrikkayil, one of the accu-sed in the 1992 case. The court, however, did not discharge the other two accused – priest Thomas M. Kottur and a nun, Sephy. But as investigating bodies, the judiciary, politicians and the media hotly pursued the gory details of the case, the family that Abhaya left behind become apathetic to the very idea of justice.
“After pursuing the case for as long as we have, you develop a sort of apathy towards it. What more can I say about it now?” shrugged Thomas. A hotel management professional, he has been living and working in Dubai for over 23 years.
He silently witnessed every aspect of his sister’s murder case unfold. “I saw my parents walk in and out of the courts for almost 25 years. My father died in 2016 and my mother followed him four months later. I am the only one left and I can tell you. I have given up,” Thomas told Khaleej Times after he heard of the latest developments in his sister’s case.
Abhaya’s death and after
Thomas was working in Gujarat state when he heard of Abhaya’s death. “It took two to three days to travel back home and I saw my mother in a state of complete shock,” he said. “I left my job and stayed back for a year and a half, in the hope that the case would be solved,” he added.
Thomas even had a meeting with the then chief minister, EK Nayanar. “I left for Dubai after realising I needed to make money to support the family,” he added. “The case should’ve been cleared in a matter of days. the evidence was in plain sight. But it’s been 26 years now.” Thomas got married and had three sons. “The owners of my company have been very supportive and sympathetic all through,” he said.
“Four months before he passed away, my father sat me down and told a few things that made me realise that we wouldn’t get justice in his lifetime. But he died believing that one of the culprits would come up to me and admit their mistake and ask for forgiveness,” he added.
Thomas is also convinced that there was no conspiracy to murder his sister. “She was a sweet girl and there were no previous problems at the convent. .”
Rubbing his hand against his forehead, Thomas said: “I am only praying for those responsible, and I hope God forgives them too. The truth will come out one day.”