Sister Hangs Herself as Nun Suicides Surge in India

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  March 6, 2023   

Hierarchy reluctant to investigate deaths of religious despite pressure

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KERALA, India ( A 27-year-old postulant belonging to the Rosminian Sisters in South India has committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling fan in her room. 

Rosminian convent where Sr. Poorani committed suicide

"I am going to Jesus as I understand that I cannot lead a genuine life on this earth," Sr. Anna Poorani wrote in a suicide note in her native Tamil language. The postulant's body was found on Feb. 27 inside the room of her convent in Vettuthara, Kerala.

Hanged From Ceiling Fan

In her suicide note, Poorani sought "pardon from the mother" but did not specify if it was her biological mother or her superior.

Poorani "was suffering from depression," parish priest Fr. Maria Dominic Zacharias told UCA News. Nobody would "ever have imagined that she would take such an extreme step."

Sister Mary Helen Sebastian, provincial superior of the Rosminian Sisters (Sisters Providence of the Institute of Charity), said that Poorani had joined the community for their activities on the previous night until she retired to bed.

When the sister did not turn up for morning prayers, her confreres went to her lodgings only to find her body hanging from a ceiling fan in the room.

"The body was removed from the ceiling fan in the presence of family members to avoid any confusion," Fr. Zacharias added. Police declared the death a suicide after a preliminary investigation. 

She is cautious to have sex only with women lest she becomes pregnant.

Poorani, who had been with the Italian-based congregation for three years, returned to Kerala from her training in the neighboring South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in January.

"Nothing is going to happen! As usual, one more death can be written off without any punctuation," Sr. Lucy Kalapura, a nun-turned-activist exposing the oppression of sisters in Indian convents, posted on her Facebook page


Church authorities remain reluctant to investigate the systemic nature of nuns' suspicious deaths even though at least 24 sisters have committed suicide or died in unexplained circumstances since 1987 in Indian convents — at the rate of almost one death a year.

When Church Militant asked Kalapura why the sister's parents were silent, she replied, "Parents are helpless. The religious culture in Kerala is a slavery system, even in death, unnaturally, all are required to remain deaf and dumb."

Convents Are 'Death Traps'

A paper in the International Journal of Indian Psychology authored by forensic psychologist Madona Mathew and criminologist P. Vishnuprasad finds a striking resemblance between the causes of the deaths. Police also quickly close investigations declaring them to be suicides or tag them as "cases of unnatural death."

According to Mathew and Vishnuprasad, Indian nuns face "human rights violations," and accounts of "slavery, discrimination, oppression, fear, and bitterness" are common in convents. 

Although I resist undressing myself, after repeated persuasion, I oblige, and show him 'a female.'

Nine nuns have been found dead in convent wells or water tanks, while six nuns have been found hanging from ceiling fans in their rooms. One was found hanging from her window, another body in a well had slit wrists and one was discovered on railway tracks. 

Sister Jessy Kurian, a Supreme Court of India lawyer and one of the first to study suicide cases among nuns, wonders if Indian convents have become "death traps."

Whistleblower Nuns

In 2021, Kurian and a group of 88 Catholic women (consisting mostly of religious sisters) wrote to Sr. Maria Nirmalini, president of the Conference of Religious India, demanding an investigation to "explore the systemic and personal reasons leading to the suicides." 

Church Militant wrote to CRI leadership and asked if the conference had followed up on the 2021 petition but did not receive a response as of press time.  

Sr. Jesme, author of Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun

Two Indian nuns have documented extensive abuse in convents, including heterosexual abuse by priests and lesbian abuse by superiors. Sisters are also psychologically abused, often to the point of mental breakdown, and forced to have abortions when they get pregnant. 

Sister Jesme's Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun, published by Penguin Books in 2009, describes her 33 years in the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel. Jesme says she was shocked to discover priests were forcing novices to have sex with them.

Lesbian Sisters

The nun talks about something called "Special Love" and narrates how her senior, Sr. Vimy, would write love letters and leave them in prayer books. At night, Vimy would creep into Jesme's bed, telling Jesme that "she is cautious to have sex only with women lest she becomes pregnant."

Occasionally, "she goes to the priests for sex," Jesme (born Meamy Raphael) writes. Sister Vimy, who teaches in the Malayalam language department, was later caught having a lesbian relationship with a student while she is overseeing the girls' hostel as a warden.

"The first principal of Amala College once shared with me the lesbian relationship of Sr. Vimy with another sister in the convent. Following her transfer to Amala College, after her relationship with me, she had another student sister to 'play with,'" Jesme notes. 

She had another student sister to 'play with.'

Relationships formed by "Special Love" also lead to heightened jealousy among sisters and created tensions in the convent, Jesme writes. 

Predator Priests

While attending a refresher course at Dharwad University, Sr. Jesme, who is a professor of English literature, recounts how a priest seduced her in his room. She writes, "Although I resist undressing myself, after repeated persuasion, I oblige, and show him 'a female.'"

Sr. Lucy Kalapura

Jesme also accuses her order of rampant corruption by pocketing donations demanded during admissions from schools and colleges run by the sisters. 

When she resigned as a college principal, she was accused of having mental problems and was sent to a psychiatrist. When asked if the Church was shocked by Jesme's allegations, Fr. Paul Thelakkat, former spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church, replied, "Absolutely not. The church knows about these things."

In her book titled In the Name of the Lord: A Nun's Tell-All, published by Harper Collins in 2022, Sr. Lucy Kalapura, an ex-Franciscan Clarist Congregation nun, says that her first instance of abuse at the convent was at the age of 24. The lesbian encounter occurred at the hands of a nun. 

She goes on to recount four attempts of sexual abuse by priests. While predatory incidents are rampant, Kalapura notes that nuns too, at times, initiate physical relationships spurred by sexual desire or the ambition to accrue power within the church hierarchy.

We had to plead for undergarments.

The nuns had to beg for undergarments and were forced to use white rolls of cloth or pads with poor absorption quality as sanitary pads, Kalapura writes. 

"We had to plead for undergarments. Undergarments from closed-down sales of resellers or warehouse sales of manufacturers were collected in the Provincial House. The only option was to pick what was available, whether it fitted or not," she laments.

Psychological Torture

Worse, when Kalapura's father suddenly died while she was working as a principal of a primary school in Bundi, Rajasthan, she wasn't allowed to go home to see him for one last time. The long train journey, travel time and other logistical problems were cited as reasons.

In 2022, Sr. Elsina, a 45-year-old nun from the Daughters of our Lady of Mercy Church in the Mysore diocese, alleged she was being tortured at her convent after she reported its corruption to the Karnataka Women's Commission. 

Sr. Jesme's book exposing the abuse in convents

Elsina describes how her fellow nuns, accompanied by men, beat her, drugged her and dragged her "like an animal" to a mental hospital run by the nuns, where she was beaten again. 

The diocese issued a statement saying that Elsina was transferred to the Provincial House in Mysore because she was noncooperative as headmistress at a hearing-impaired school.

"The miserable lives that the nuns are forced to live are the result of a rotten system," Kalapura writes. 

But Fr. Sebastian Thundathilkunnel, secretary to the Kerala Bishops' Commission for Religious, insists that "it is not correct to paint a bad image of convents with isolated incidents of suicides of nuns" and "absolutely absurd to say everything is wrong with the church and convents just because of some isolated incidents of nuns committing suicide." 

In February, Church Militant reported on the murder of Sr. Abhaya, a 21-year-old novice belonging to the St. Joseph's Congregation, who was found dead in a well filled with water at the St. Pius X Convent in Kottayam, Kerala, on March 27, 1992. 

The novice was allegedly murdered by a fellow nun and two priests after Abhaya caught them having sex in the kitchen of her convent. In June 2022, both of the accused, Sr. Sephy and Fr. Thomas Kottoor, were granted bail, and their life sentences were terminated by the high court. 


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