Novitiate Divya P John’s father accuses convent authorities of mental torture leading to death

The Kochi Post Exclusive

John P Philipose, the father of novitiate Divya P John has alleged that his daughter, who was found drowned in the well of the Basilian Convent in Tiruvalla on May 7, may have been mentally tortured by the convent authorities. Speaking exclusively to The Kochi Post, John, a Sub Inspector with the CRPF, said that Divya hadn’t communicated anything about torture at any point with her parents. He also added that his daughter was mentally and physically sound.

“It was her greatest dream to be a nun and if she did something against her dream that would be due to some harassment on the part of the convent authorities,” John told The Kochi Post. “She was a very happy girl and she joined the convent on her own. We never compelled her,” he added.

He said that he had asked the convent authorities not to visit his house when Divya’s body was brought to the house. “We don’t like anyone of them visiting our house. I haven’t spoken with any of the convent authorities,” John added. He said that none from the Church had spoken to him regarding this. John had gone to Hyderabad on official duty and was under home quarantine.  It was Divya’s mother and sister who went to Tiruvalla after the incident occurred.

He said that he is not in a position to evaluate the progress of the police investigation. “All I want is justice for my daughter. If any kind of foul play happened, that should be brought to light,” he said.  The investigation conducted by the state police and the Crime Branch should be perceived in line with the reaction of Divya’s father as the police are not able to properly  give convincing answers to a number of missing links connected with the death which happened in broad daylight at a convent in the middle of the town.

The Basilian Convent, though belonging to the Latin rite, comes under the influential Tiruvalla Archdiocese of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The police are parroting the theory of the convent authorities that the fifth year novitiate, who was last seen in the classroom alive around 11.15 am that day, was found in the well of the convent within the next one hour, that too without any eye witnesses. Tiruvalla Circle Inspector, P S Vinod, told The Kochi Post that the incident happened between 11.15 and 12.15 pm is the conclusion of the doctors who conducted the post mortem. The police, after going through the post mortem report and evidences initially said that the cause of death may be drowning. They have not mentioned anything regarding mental harassment at the convent. They say they are verifying the statements.

According to the police, Divya was in class in the morning.  However, they were not able to reach a conclusion regarding the case or explicate the situation that resulted in the incident. Tiruvalla Circle Inspector (CI), Vinod P S, who is investigating the case told The Kochi Post that there was no eye witness in the case and an inmate who heard the ‘thud’ sound of Divya falling into the well had reached the spot within seconds. He said that no external exertion of force or sexual assault was found on the body.

Soon after they came to know of the incident, the convent authorities rang up fire force and they reached the spot and fished out the body and artificial respiration was given to her. It was the fire force officials who took her to the Pushpagiri Medical College hospital at least three kilometres from the place — despite the presence of the Tiruvalla Taluk hospital within half a kilometre of the convent. The death was ascertained at the Pushpagiri Medical College hospital.

According to Dr Renji Raveendran, Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine, at the Kottayam Medical College Hospital who led a team which conducted the post mortem, the death is due to drowning and there was no suggestive evidence of violence or coercion on the body. Although there are some minor abrasions on the leg, that is unimportant”, Dr Renju told The Kochi Post.

According to the police, the drowning theory will stand as the water present in the well is two and half meters deep. And Divya’s height is 163 cm as per records. CI Vinod says that it was a straight fall into the well.  The inquest points towards a minute abrasion in the pointing finger and an abrasion in the knee of the leg which according to them may be the result of the fall.

Apart from Divya, who was in her fifth year of training, there is one more novitiate and nine other nuns staying at the convent.  The absence of the visit of finger print experts to the convent on the day of the death became a controversy in the context of the sensational death of a nun inside the convent. The police version is that the forensic team went to Ranni for another case that day.

Pathanamthitta District Police Chief, K G Simon, told The Kochi Post that the police are verifying the statements of the inmates and they haven’t reached any conclusion as yet. He said that there is no decision to hand over the investigation of the case to the Crime Branch. However, the Crime Branch is conducting a parallel investigation, he said. A team led by Crime Branch, IG Yogesh Agarwal, is in charge of it.

Augustine Vattoly, a priest with the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese told The Kochi Post that the silence of the Church authorities is stirring doubts among civil society and they should come out to clear it. “The church authorities should take a stand to alleviate doubts of civil society”, he added.

Curiously, the absence of follow-up reports by the newspapers and visual media is conspicuous after the death of the novitiate. There have been 16 such instances of deaths of nuns in Kerala convents since 1987.

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