The saga of Kerala nuns found dead in wells: Church must ensure justice for victims

With 20 odd cases of nuns found dead in wells in various convents in Kerala since 1987, a nun and an SC advocate asks some questions.
Sister Divya P Johny
Sister Divya P Johny
Written by:

Sr Jessy Kurian

From 1987, bodies of about 20 nuns have been found in wells in various convents in Kerala, including Sister Abhaya’s in 1992. In all these cases, neither the convent authorities nor the diocese nor the Kerala Catholic Church has lodged an FIR or conducted an investigation to find out the reason for the deaths. But after every incident, they conducted a burial and issued a press statement saying, “Normal Death”.

The latest addition to this saga of nuns is 21-year-old Sr Divya P Johny (novice) whose body was found in a well at the Basilian Sisters Convent in Thiruvalla on May 7. It is shocking that in this case too the PRO of the diocese was very quick to publish a press statement stating “Normal Death”.

The Catholic Church calls nuns the ‘Brides of Christ’. I don’t think Christ wants to see all His brides in the wells of Kerala.

Many questions crop up in the case of Sr Divya, as in all the previous cases.

1. What is the meaning of normal death here?

2. If she committed suicide, who abetted the crime? Are the abettors not liable?

3. If she slipped and fell into the well, aren’t the convent/Church authorities liable for negligence for not ensuring the safety of inmates/people while setting up the well, and thereby need to pay a huge amount of compensation to the family?

4. Why was she not wearing her salwar bottom when she was found in the well?

5. Why was the body not taken to a government hospital but to their own?

However, these and many other questions remain unanswered.

In the case of a nun’s death, even her family is reluctant to file a case or ask for action against the authorities/Church because they are afraid of dire consequences when it comes to the next wedding, baptism, engagement, burial, and even the studies of their children. There is also a belief created in the faithful that if they stand up against the Church, their families will be ruined. Hence in such cases, the family either remains silent or retracts any statement given earlier against the Church.

However, if your married daughter’s body is found in the well of her matrimonial home or in a hostel room, will you give the family a clean chit?

Hence we refuse to believe the ‘Normal Death’ theory of the Church in the case of Sr Divya and we want this matter to be investigated thoroughly and unbiasedly by the state.

These nuns are first and foremost Indian women. They chose the lifestyle of ‘nun-hood’ as the Kerala High Court said. Nun-hood is a lifestyle much like marriage. The state should ensure their safety. However, the changing governments in Kerala have failed to bring justice to nun victims because these governments are influenced by money power, muscle power, and vote bank politics.

In this case, I’m not bothered about religion, rites or denomination, but for me Sr Divya is an Indian citizen. She hails from Kerala and therefore the state of Kerala should bring justice to her and her family, and thereby to more than one lakh women in India who have chosen the same lifestyle of ‘nun-hood’. As women and citizens, they have equal right to live with human dignity and the right to safety and security.

The Church should ensure the safety and security of nuns and nun trainees. The parents who send their young daughters to the Church should be ensured of the safety of their daughters. The Church stands for justice and should bring justice to the victims. If a nun meets with an untoward incident, the Church should investigate and appropriate action should be taken. Introspection to this effect is the need of the hour on part of the Church. I’m not against the Church. It is undisputed that the Church played a vital role in making me what I’m today. However, justice should reign as Jesus taught.

I hope Cardinal Cleemis, for whom I have great regard as a leader who upholds human rights, will see that justice is done to the victim.

Sr Jessy Kurian is an advocate, Supreme Court of India, and former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions.

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