Nun who had said there was foul play in Abhaya's death takes back her word

Nun who had said there was foul play in Abhaya's death takes back her word

Two more prosecution witnesses, both nuns from the Knanaya congregation to which the prime accused in the Abhaya murder case belong, were declared hostile on Monday.

Nonetheless, CBI special prosecutor Navas, who mostly adopted a belligerent tone, made sure the witnesses fumbled for the right responses, and at times even contradicted their statements. There was also a moment when the CBI special judge K Sanilkumar exploded when one of the witnesses, sister Annie John, refused to answer a particular question.

Sister Annie John, who was the first to take the podium on Monday, was one of the senior nuns of the congregation who were called to St Pious X Convent on the day of Sister Abhaya's death.

Closed fridge and vanishing slippers

According to the CBI, Sister Annie had told that she had seen the kitchen in a state of disorder. She had said that the fridge was slightly open, an open water bottle was on the ground with water spilled around, two slippers of a pair were seen thrown far apart from each other, and a nun's headscarf was found stuck under the southernmost door of the kitchen that opened into the backyard of the Convent.

On Monday, the 66-year-old Sister Annie said she had seen only the headscarf. She denied having seen the slippers or anything else in a misplaced state inside the kitchen.

Sr Annie, who was then the treasurer of the congregation, is also said to have told the CBI that the Bishop's House had contacted the Kottayam SP K T Michael. Sr Annie flatly denied this.

Father's last kiss and parting words

The CBI prosecutor, Navas, asked her whether she knew Sr Abhaya's father. Sr Annie, who by then had become wary of the prosecutor's questions, said she did not remember the father's name but admitted she knew him.

Navas told Sr Annie that she had testified before the CBI that she had spent time with Abhaya's father Thomas when he came to the Convent on the day of Abhaya's death. She had also said that she had taken Thomas to the kitchen and showed him the disturbed condition of the place. Sr Annie said she had not done this, and had not told anything like this to the CBI.

Navas then called the nun's attention to what happened after Abhaya's father was taken near the dead body of his daughter. As per the CBI records the father removed the white shroud that covered Abhaya's body, bent down with tearful eyes and kissed her forehead asking: “why did you do this my child?” Hearing this, Sr Annie is said to have told Thomas not to curse Abhaya. She told the dead nun's grieving father that Abhaya had not done anything wrong. She is also said to have pointed to the wound marks on the neck, just above the collar bone, and said there was some foul play involved.

But on Monday Sr Annie told the CBI Special Court that it was not like in the CBI testimony. “He kissed Abhaya's forehead asking why have you brought disgrace to our family. Then I told him I don't think she had done anything wrong,” Sr Annie said. She also told the Court that she had not seen any wound marks.

Signature dilemma and judge's fury

The CBI prosecutor then pulled out a sheaf of documents and asked Sr Annie whether she could identify the signature of Sister Lisiuex, the nun who had passed away recently and who was the mother superior of St Pious X Convent on the day Abhaya was found dead.

Sr Annie stood motionless for a moment, not knowing how to answer the question. “Since you were the treasurer of the congregation you would have quite frequently come across Sr Lisiuex's signature,” Navas said. Sr Annie had to admit.

She was shown the signature that was under the statement given by Sr Lisiuex to the CBI, and after a few moments of hesitation, Sr Annie said the signature looked like Sr Lisiuex's. Navas read out Sr Lisiuex's statement and it had all that Sr Annie had said in her testimony: the strewn slippers, open fridge, fallen water bottle, and the headscarf stuck under the back door.

“So what do you say. Was Sr Lisiuex, who has now died, telling lies or was she telling the truth,” Navas asked. Sr Annie struggled for an answer. When Navas kept insisting, she said she would not answer the question.

This invited harsh reprimand from special judge K Sanilkumar. “How dare you say you won't answer the question. Have you got the feeling that you are above the law. This is not a place where you can say anything you want,” the judge said, his fingers pointed and voice raised. The nun profusely apologised, and managed to say she didn't know whether Sr Lisiuex was lying or not.

Headscarf and exiting nuns

Navas then turned to the only item on the crime scene that he could use to pin down the witness: the headscarf stuck under the back door. “What went through your mind when you saw the headscarf,” he asked. She stood speechless. “Didn't you feel that something bad had happened to a nun,” he kept on. The nun was still finding it hard to answer.

When the judge, too, insisted that she answer, Sr Annie said something that once again provoked the judge and gave the prosecution lawyer yet another chance to pounce on her. “When I saw the headscarf I thought one more sister had secretly left the Convent. It was then usual for sisters to quit the convent,” Sr Annie said. “Think before you answer,” the judge warned her. “Now you are saying that nuns had walked out of your congregation. You are casting aspersions on your own congregation,” he said.

Navas now had an additional poser. “When other nuns had secretly left the Convent, as you just said, did they too leave their headscarf at the back of the kitchen,” he asked. Navas kept repeating the question but Sr Annie remained silent, her face caught between a plead and a half-smile. It was as if she knew that any word from her or even a nod of her head could be another trap. “That you cannot answer my question is a sign that you have been lying all along,” Navas concluded.

Fatal fall that went mute

Sister Sudeepa, another prosecution witness, too denied what she is supposed to have told the CBI earlier. Sr Sudeepa was just two years older to Abhaya and stayed in a room adjacent to Abhaya's in the Convent. In her testimony to the CBI, Sr Sudeepa had said that she had heard something heavy falling into the well right behind the building at around 4:15am on March 27, 1992.

On Monday, she told the court that she had not heard any such sound. “I woke up at 3am to study. It was the last exam and so I was intensely engrossed in my lessons. I did not hear anything,” she said. Further, absolutely contradicting what was in her CBI testimony, Sr Sudeepa said that she had not gone anywhere near the kitchen on the day. She could not even remember when she finally managed to visit the kitchen.

Sudeepa also hinted that she suspected Abhaya's to be a suicide. “Abhaya had confided to me about her father's drinking habit and the problems it created at home,” she said.

Power question and English blunder

The prosecutor then asked her what seemed an innocuous question. “When do you put off the lights in the Convent,” he asked. Sr Sudeepa by then was highly suspicious of any question that she blurted out that the lights would not be put off. This prompted the special judge to ask whether she ever had had the chance to switch off at least the lights in her own room.

Navas then produced the prospectus of the Convent that said that lights should be put off by 10:30am and switched on only at 5am the next day. Sr Sudeepa said that she was not aware of such rules, and also that being a nun such rules did not apply to her.

But the prospectus, which was in English, was part of Sr Abhaya's biodata. When Navas pointed this out, Sr Sudeepa said she could not read or speak English. The judge then asked her to read, he even asked her to put on her reading glass. Sr Sudeepa, effectively mocking her own claim, began reading out the relevant portion of the prospectus without any difficulty.