Four close-up photos taken by photographer Varghese Chacko had gone missing when the Sister Abhaya murder case was handed over to the CBI.

Sister Abhaya case witness and photographer Varghese Chacko seen in a pink and white striped shirt and smiling
news Sr Abhaya Murder Case Friday, December 25, 2020 - 13:08

 "I knew that it was not a suicide, as, from the beginning, I felt they were hiding something,” recalls Varghese Chacko, a photographer and also the seventh witness in the Sister Abhaya case. “When I reached there, her body was laid on a grass mat covered with a white cloth. They did not remove the white cloth to take photos. I was not allowed to take a close shot of head also, but I managed to take photos of her neck and face. While taking the pictures, I saw red marks on either side of her neck.”

Varghese started his profession as a photographer when he was 16 years old, at the Venus studio in Kottayam. When he was assigned to take police inquest photos of Abhaya's body in 1992, he was 26 years old. Twenty-eight years later, speaking to TNM from an oil mill he runs, he recalls each and everything happened on that day.

"Usually, a photographer should have been present while the body was being taken out from the well. But I was called very late. I just clicked the photos of body which was on the floor, convent premises, and the well," he said.

Varghese handed over ten photos with negatives to the owner of the studio. Later, a policeman collected them. "We sent a bill of Rs 200 to the convent. They paid it," he said.

Varghese was never a witness in the case, until the beginning of 2000s. Neither the police nor the first batch of CBI officials asked him anything. Later, a CBI enquiry led by DySP Nandakumar Nair included him as a witness.

"I thought that the photographs were there, so they can see themselves the marks that I saw. So I did not tell anyone. Within a few days of the murder, though many were claiming that it was a suicide, others knew it was not," he said.

Varghese was shocked when he was approached by the CBI and the prosecution because they showed him just six photos. "Four photos went missing. The CBI did not get them. Three among the missing photos were close up of Abhaya's face and neck, where the marks were visible. Another one was shot of an angle of her feet," he said.

"At the court, the defence lawyer showed me the other six photos and asked where are the marks. But they were visible only in the missing photos. The six photos were long-shot ones," he said.

Varghese had also undergone polygraph and brain-mapping tests. 

Eight witnesses in the case turned hostile during the trial. But there were few others on the other side, who stuck on to their statements. 

Also read: How Abhaya case witness Adakka Raju was subjected to inhuman torture by cops

"When I gave my statement to the CBI, everyone warned me, saying that I might be harmed. But I was not scared all these years. I was firm and I told them whatever I saw. My studio owner also protected me. He was a very powerful person in Kottayam, I had that courage too," he said.

He also said that nobody pressurised or threatened him to change his statements.

"They alleged that I was lying for the CBI and was taking money from them. I don't need any money. I will tell only the truth so that her (Abhaya's) soul can rest in peace," he said.

He said that another proof was that CBI had received the bill for the photos that he gave to the convent officials. "The bill proved that there were ten photographs. I had signed that bill," he said.

The photographer’s testimony later helped prove that Sister Abhaya’s death was a homicide. The CBI court in its judgement sentencing two accused in the case observed that there was no conflict in the report by Radhakrishnan, a forensic expert and prosecution witness 33, and findings of Varghese. In the judgment the court observed that the nail mark injuries as stated by Varghese are injuries which cannot be inflicted while “the body is submerged in the water or is en route towards the water,” which indicated that there was a struggle before the nun’s death.

While Varghese confirmed that there were nail marks, Radhakrishnan’s report does not mention marks. However, the court said that just because Radhakrishnan did not see the marks, does not mean it was not there.

“As this case originated and developed over the decades and was investigated by the various wings of different Investigating Agencies, PW7 (Varghese) had to subject himself to prolonged questioning on numerous occasions. On all those occasions, he was consistent in his stand and stood his ground despite the pressure of intense and repeated questioning,” the judgment observed.

Also Read: Nail marks, head injury, former thief’s statements’: What the Abhaya case judgment says

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