A WITNESS in the rape case filed by a nun against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Jalandhar-based Missionaries of Jesus was found dead Monday at a school complex in the Dasuya sub-division of Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district, police said.
Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 62, was found unconscious in his room at around 9 am and rushed to the civil hospital where doctors declared him dead on arrival, police said.
Hoshiarpur SSP J Elan-chezhian said that “preliminary investigations suggest it was a natural death”. But the priest’s brother and supporters of the nun demanded a probe while claiming that Kattuthara had faced threats to his life for his involvement in the rape case.
Kattuthara was a prosecution witness for Kerala Police in the case and had told investigators that he was aware of various complaints against Bishop Mulakkal. Mulakkal, who was arrested in the case, returned to Jalandhar last week after being released on bail.
“Father Kuriakose was one of the witnesses in the case. He had no direct knowledge of the crime, which we are probing. His statement did not have a direct bearing on the crime. But he had given us details about the character of the accused Bishop,’’ Kottayam SP Hari Shanker said.
Hoshiarpur SSP Elanchezhian said the “exact cause of death shall be clear after post-mortem”. “A board of doctors will be conducting it on Tuesday. There were no visible injury marks on the body.
Viscera shall be sent for chemical examination, which will further clear the cause of death. Forensic experts and a dog squad also inspected the spot. We have sealed the entire house for further investigations,” he said.
According to police, Kattuthara was staying in a four-room house attached to the St Mary’s Catholic Church on the premises of the St Paul Convent School in Dasuya. He had been transferred to Dasuya from Bhogpur in Jalandhar three weeks ago.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Madan, a cook at the church, said: “After lunch yesterday, Father Kuriakose asked for a cup of coffee. I kept it on the dining table. He asked me not to disturb him as he wanted to take some rest. In the evening, I went to his room and knocked to check if he wanted to have dinner. He did not reply. I thought he might be sleeping and would call if he required anything. Today morning, when he did not open the door, I informed the nuns here.”
Sister Lisabeth, principal, St Paul school, said: “We looked into the room from the window. Father Kuriakose was lying on the bed, motionless. We informed another priest who reached here at about 10 am, and the door was opened. There was vomit on the bed.”
Police said Kattuthara, who taught Philosophy, shared the house with another priest, Father James Chacko Ullatil, who is in Delhi for a meeting. A laptop and a few medicinal tablets were recovered from the room, police said.
Kattuthara’s brother, Jose Kattuthara, said he has asked Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to order a “thorough probe” into the death.
“My brother was working in Punjab for the last 35 years. I have filed a written complaint with Kerala Police and also sent a copy to Kerala Chief Minister demanding a thorough probe into my brother’s death. Three days ago, I spoke with my brother and he told me that people close to Bishop Franco Mulakkal were threatening him. He told me that some people had pelted stones at his car in Jalandhar a few days ago. Ever since he testified against Bishop Franco, he was getting threats from people of under the diocese of Jalandhar,” Jose Kattuthara claimed.
“I am sure that my brother was killed,” he said.
A group in Kerala formed in support of the nun claimed that the death “showed that the rape survivor and the other nuns are under threat”. “We have requested the Chief Minister to provide protection for the nuns and other witnesses in the case,” Father Augustine Vattoli, general convener, Save Our Sisters Action Council, said.