Death of Sr. Rani Maria

As usual on 25th February 1995 Sr.Rani Maria rose early in the morning.  She had to take the first bus to Indore and from there go to the Provincial House, Bhopal and then proceed down to Kerala. The late Sr. Liza Rose describes, “When I reached the Chapel for the morning prayers Sr. Rani Maria had already reached the Chapel before everybody else. After the morning prayers we assembled in the refectory while Sr. Rani was having her breakfast.  As it was her custom, before leaving the house she picked up the bible to read word of God. She got the Word ‘Do not be afraid. I have carved your name on the palm of my hands’ (Is.49: 16).

Accompanied by two sisters Sr. Rani reached the bus stand only to be told that the bus trip was cancelled. While they were returning, they saw the bus by name ‘Kapil’ by which she was to travel. Sr. Liza Rose told the conductor to reserve one seat for Sr. Rani Maria. He replied, “The bus will leave at 8.15 a.m. You may board the bus in front of the convent.”
The bus arrived in front of the convent. Sisters bade her farewell. Sr. Liza helped her to get into the bus with her handbag.  A young man dressed in white, kept her bag near the driver and asked her to sit in the back seat. This was something unusual in Udainagar. The sisters were always given the front seat in the bus. Among the fifty or so passengers there were three, seated in different parts of the bus, but united in one thing: the determination to murder Sr. Rani. Jeevan Singh, the leader of the group was seated in the back seat of the bus together with Dharmendra, his bodyguard.  The third man was Samundar Singh, a youth of 28, who took his seat near Sr. Rani Maria.   Jeevan Singh began to insult her saying: “Why have you come here from Kerala? Have you come to convert these poor tribal people to Christianity? We will not allow that.”

The bus reached a jungle about 20 kms from Udainagar.  Samundar rose from his seat and asked the driver to stop the bus.  He got down from the bus and broke a coconut against a rock on the road side: it was a pooja or sacred rite offered to their divinities.  With pieces of the broken coconut in his hands he re-entered the bus and distributed them among the passengers. He offered a piece to Sr.Rani Maria but suddenly withdrew it as if to fool her. She asked him, “Why are you so overjoyed today?” Drawing out a knife he said, “Just for this,” and thrust it into her stomach. Repeatedly he stabbed her.  Then the bus stopped.  Deaf to her cries, he dragged her out of the bus and stabbed her to death.  The post-mortem registered 40 major injuries besides 14 bruises.  Unto the last she kept on saying “Jesus! Jesus!” None of the passengers dared to come to her rescue. Most of them ran away.  One of them would later narrate the incident to Sr. Liza Rose.
The whole scenario was well planned in advance.  In the beginning of December 1994, just before the Panchayat elections, there was a clash between the people of Kannad village and the people of Semli village, in which Jeevan Singh also was wounded.  Among those arrested and imprisoned by the police, there were also many innocent people. Sr.Rani Maria intervened in their favour and bailed them out.  This incensed Jeevan Singh and his partisans.  It has been reliably reported “they met together on the previous evening in the residence of a prominent person of the place in order to plan out the murder.”

At about 10.45 a.m. the police informed the sisters of the convent of Udainagar: “Your sister is murdered by someone. The body is lying on the road .You may go and take the body.” Since the sisters had no conveyance they informed the Bishop’s house in Indore and the Provincial House in Bhopal.  Shocked by the news, the bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. George Anathil SVD along with some priests reached the spot by 2 o’clock in the afternoon and found the body lying on the side of the road, soaked in blood, close by the bus.  He saw to all the legal formalities and got the body and laid in state in the Bishop’s House.

The news of her assassination spread rapidly provoking sadness and dismay. Thousands of people including Non-Catholics came to render her homage. The following day body was taken to the Cathedral Church of Indore and Bishop George Anathil celebrated the Holy Mass with several priests.  The Church was packed with people.  After the mass a protest rally was taken out and memorandums were presented to the government authorities. On 27th morning seven bishops and nearly a hundred priests concelebrated the Holy Mass. In a grant funeral procession of 125 vehicles Rani Maria’s body was taken from Indore to Udainagar, a distance of 102 kms. The air rang with the praises of Sr. Rani Maria, who had died for the poor.  Udainagar became a human sea of mourners, irrespective of caste or creed. At a condolence meeting in the parish yard many eminent personalities spoke about her life and works at Udainagar, hailing her as a martyr. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn: 15:13).” Quiet significantly, this saying of Jesus has been carved on her tomb.