Police Slow to Investigate Murder of Indian Catholic Priest
A Special Report by ICC
5/15/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Mystery surrounds the suspicious murder of a Catholic Priest in the southern city of Bangalore, even as police come under scrutiny for a slow investigation to find the culprits and the motive.
On 1 April, 2013, K.J. Thomas, a 65-year-old Catholic priest, who served as rector at St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary in Malleswaram area in Bangalore, was found murdered in the early hours of the morning, in a coffee room on the seminary premises. He had multiple head injuries after being hit on the head with a blunt object, police told The Hindu newspaper.
After initial investigation, police concluded that the priest was in his room near the main entrance, when the intruders broke into the seminary. However, police suspected that the murder took place in the corridor, after which his body was dragged into the coffee room at the end of the corridor. He had a cut near his forehead as well as one on the nose.
The reception area, the museum and the rector’s room had been ransacked. But the priest’s gadgets, including a laptop, an iPad and a mobile phone, were intact. Since there was no sign of forced entry into the rector’s room, it was suspected that he ventured out of the room and was killed while resisting the intruders. The assailants also tried to break into the room of the current procurator, Father Patrick, but he allegedly locked himself in and survived.
Since it had rained and thundered that night, it would have muffled any sound that the intruders might have made, although Father Patrick admits he heard noises at around 2:30 a.m., but did not venture out to check.
But evidently, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Rev. Arokiaraj Sathish Kumar of Christ the King Church in Bangalore recalled that on the night of March 28, three men had jumped over the wall of his church. The gardener, Aralayya, spotted them and raised an alarm. The three then punched him before fleeing, according to The Hindu. But this incident was not reported to the police at the time.
Is the Delay Deliberate?
Nearly three weeks after the murder, police had no information about the culprits or the motive behind the brutal murder. At an April 19 press conference, the Archbishop of Bangalore, Rev. Bernard Moras, urged the police to look into the investigation. Along with 15 bishops of the seminary’s board of administration, he condemned the brutal murder and read out the contents of the last will and testament of the rector.
On April 23, the Christian Voice forum at the St Francis Xavier Cathedral held a prayer meeting to appeal to the police for a speedy investigation, where Rev. Moras told The Times of India, “It is very shocking that someone could enter a religious place and commit such a heinous crime on a priest. The culprit must be found at the earliest, or it is going to give rise to many rumours and suspicions which we do not need right now.”
Echoing his sentiments, Father Ronnie Prabhu said, “It isn’t right to blame them (police) completely. Everything takes its own time, but we do need immediate answers and that’s our only request to the authorities.”
As mystery continues to surround the murder of Father Thomas, questions linger as to the reasons for a delay in the investigation. Although it is too early to conclude that the delay has to do with any distaste for Christians, especially since the political and judicial lethargy in India affects everyone regardless of their faith, it is not unreasonable to rule it out.
However, the lethargy and incompetence of the police have not gone unnoticed. A.C. Jayaraj, President of the Karnataka State Malayali [people from Kerala state] Christian Association, has demanded a probe into the murder by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s “FBI.” At a press conference on April 24, he argued that since the seminary is one kilometer away from a police station, with top officials stationed there, they ought to be able to trace the culprits with the CCTV cameras installed at the Yashwanthpur Junction. Casting suspicion on the State Police, he urged the Karnataka state government to withdraw the investigation from them and hand it over to CBI.
As the Church continues to press the government and the police to do their job, it will be wise to speed up the investigation and find the answers that the Church deserves to get, failing which would only cast suspicion on its motives for delay, embolden further cases of assault against Christian institutions and raise serious concerns over the possibility of prejudice and purposeful neglect of the Christian community.