Martyr for the poor farmers of India, Sister Rani Maria Vattalil was murdered in 1995 for her commitment to microcredit as an alternative to the sale of land

March 30, 2017

Among the decrees signed yesterday by the Pope also Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, a nun killed in 1995 for her commitment to microcredit as an alternative to the sale of land

Sister Rani Maria Vattalil

Pubblicato il 24/03/2017 GIORGIO BERNARDELLI, Vatican Insider/La Stampa

There is also the name of a martyr of our time among the decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved yesterday by the Pope. A name that comes from India, one of the regions of the world where Christians experience a harder persecution, not only for religious reasons but also for their commitment to serving the least. Pope Francis has in fact officially recognized the martyrdom of Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, a Franciscan Poor Clare native of Kerala, atrociously killed just over twenty years ago on Feb. 25, 1995.

Hers is a story more timely than ever: she was killed while on a bus to Bhopal by a hit man, Samandar Singh who wanted to stop her actions in favor of the poor peasants, whom she was trying to protect from usurers and those who wanted to take possession of their lands. The killer stabbed her in front of everyone and then went on to rage on her body with 54 hits so to leave no doubt on what was the fate for those who – in a transforming rural India – claimed to oppose the law of the strongest.

The story of Sister Rani Maria Vattalil is intertwined, therefore, with the great tragedy of suicide farmers in India. A study by the London School of Economics has estimated that between 1995 and 2012, were 285 thousand those who have taken their lives because stripped of their lands. The shame of having lost everything to climate change or even to the downward trend of prices, strangled small producers. A destiny against which – in the village of Udainagar in the state of Madhya Pradesh State – Sister Rani Maria tried to say no by promoting microcredit initiatives and bringing the issue of protection of the rights of the poorest in the panchayat, the little village councils. A commitment that could not go unnoticed in the eyes of local potentates; for that too, against Sister Rani Maria Vattalil had begun to circulate accusations of proselytism. However, more than conversions among the locals, to frighten really was her action in defense of the weakest, that India’s economic boom needed to remain on the sidelines. Witnesses say that while she was being killed on that bus, Sister Rani Maria Vattalil kept repeating the name of Jesus.

She was beatified soon after. An important sign for the Catholics of today’s India; because Madhya Pradesh is one of the strongholds of Hindu fundamentalism, and now present in the central government of New Delhi through the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Party of the Indian people of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which emerged strengthened from the last local elections.

But there is also another very significant aspect in Sister Rani Maria’s story: the transformation of her murderess into a true parable of mercy. In prison, Samandar Singh went through a profound experience of change, culminating in 2002 with the embrace of reconciliation with Sister Selmy Paul, sister of the murdered nun who is herself a religious. Today, Singh has finished serving his sentence, thanks to the victim’s family who contributed to his release. “He lives about 30 km from our monastery – told last year Sister Selmy Paul to AsiaNews -. We share a spiritual relationship. He often visits us and every year, on the anniversary of Sister Rani Maria’s death, he pays homage at her grave with grain from his field as a symbol of renewed life. This is how he proclaims God’s mercy.