Sr Maria: Martyr for justice

By Fr George Chathanatt

Sister Rani Maria, a Kerala born Catholic nun, a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, was beatified in Indore, on November 4. Beatification is the last step before the Church formally declares someone a Saint. “Rani Maria’s beatification is a great blessing for India,” said Most Rev Chacko Thottumarickal, Bishop of Indore, participating in the solemn ceremony.
Sr Rani Maria (Mariam Vattalil) was born at Pulluvazhy in Kerala’s Ernakulam district on January 29, 1954, as the second child of Paily and Eliswa. They had seven children. Marykunju (little Mary), as she was affectionately called, was brought up in a deeply Christian atmosphere. No wonder that the intense religious atmosphere of her family imbibed in her, at a very young age itself, the thought of becoming a nun and give herself totally to God.
Her mother says: “Marykunju was different from my other children; she was an exceptionally obedient child.” Her brother Stephen adds, “She was a girl of few words and had no interest in adorning herself with ornaments of gold or silver. She would never hurt anyone.”
Even as a school-going girl she found time to help her father in the field and her mother in her domestic duties. But she felt her true goal in life was to serve God as a religious nun.
So after her studies, on July 3, 1971, she joined Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC). She started her novitiate on May 1, 1973. With the appointment of Msgr Gratian Mundadan as the Bishop of Bijnor (Uttar Pradesh), Mariam’s desire to work in the missions was strengthened and she made up her mind to work outside Kerala among the poor. On May 1, 1974, she made her First Religious Profession, taking the new name, Rani Maria. She made her final commitment on May 22, 1980.
Rani Maria had already requested her superiors to be allowed to go to the missions and so her superiors now told her that her request was granted, and Rani Maria gladly responded: “I am very happy to work among the poor and the oppressed, for they are God’s children, our brothers and sisters. I feel sadonly very few opt to work in this field.”
Reaching Bijnor, she soon studied the local languages and the new social surroundings. Initially, the villagers used to get frightened seeing the sisters, mistaking them for forest officials. They even used to run away for life throwing away the head-load of the firewood they were carrying. But once they were won over, the Sisters became their best friends and they were ready to do anything for them.
Rani Maria soon observed the big difference that existed between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The have-nots were so illiterate that they were not even aware of their own human dignity, their rights and duties and simply accepted their miserable lot. Seeing this, she decided to help by empowering them. She was well aware that this would cost her life. All the same, she was determined to change their dilapidated huts into modest houses, educate their children, get water supply, electricity and better road facilities.She also equipped herself with more theoretical knowledge of Sociology, by graduating from the University of Bhopal and later did her MA from the University of Rewa.
Equipped with the theoretical knowledge and practical wisdom she now began to provide educational facilities to villagers; for the older people she conducted awareness programmes. She worked tirelessly day and night to make them aware of human and Christian values, of their rights and duties, of justice, etc. Soon Rani Maria came to be called “Mother of the Poor” and “Indore Rani”. This infuriated the oppressors; they began looking for opportunities to get rid of her.
During the Panchayat election in December 1994, there was a clash between two factions of Kannad village and those of Selmi. Jeevan Singh instigated the police to take action against the poor and police jailed some innocent ones. Sr Rani Maria with the help of a good lawyer got them out on bail and fought their case in court. Jeevan Singh was infuriated as she thwarted his plans. He decided to get rid of her at any cost; he hired a thug and waited for an opportune moment.
At 8.30 in the evening, February 25, 1995, Sr Rani boarded a bus for Indore. A group of three, Jeevan Singh, Dharmendra Singh and Samundar Singh also boarded the same bus. The first two had done meticulous hatching of a plot to kill Rani Maria while the third committed the atrocious crime. When the bus reached a secluded spot, it stopped for a while for the passengers to ease themselves.
The trio now went out and split opened a coconut and performed pooja on the stone deity nearby. They came back to the bus and distributed the kernel among the passengers, in a happy mood. Rani Maria asked him: “Why are you so happy and excited today?”
As if answering her question, he stabbed her on her face and dragged her out of the bus and kept on stabbing her till he made sure that she was dead. All the while, Sr Maria kept on uttering just one word: “Jesus, Jesus…!”
The co-passengers were afraid to intervene, frightened for their life. The two who masterminded the gruesome crime soon disappeared into the thick forest. The murderer was the last to flee the scene, after inflicting as many as fifty-four wounds on Rani Maria.
The little known village of Udainagar where Rani Maria’s mortal remains were laid to rest, achieved overnight fame and a sea of mourners and admirers of the martyred Nun visited the place on the funeral day and continue to visit it ever since.
The words of Bishop Anathil who officiated the funeral services were really prophetic: “Sr Rani Maria is a martyr, her tomb will become a pilgrim centre. She preached the Good News of liberation to the poor… the people of this place will receive abundant blessings through her.” The prophecy came true when Pope Francis approved the cause of her beatification on March 23 in Indore.
Samundar Singh was convicted of Sr Rani’s murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Sr Rani’s younger sister, also a nun of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, and her mother visited Singh in prison and conveyed their forgiveness. The Sister went a step further, and tied rakhi on his hand on Raksha Bandhan.
Singh was released from prison in 2006 after the Vattalil family pleaded that he be released as they consider him part of their family. At the beatification ceremony Samundar Singh was seated next to Blessed Maria’s sister, Sr Selmi. “I cannot undo what happened. That was also God’s call. This, too, is God’s call. She was a saint, and now she’ll be declared one too,” said Singh with tears in his eyes.

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.