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Family seeks probe into alleged suicide of Indian priest

Father Kondru Velankani Raju, 33, of Vijayawada diocese in southern Andhra Pradesh was found dead on Oct. 26 last year
Father Kondru Velankani Raju

Father Kondru Velankani Raju. (Photo supplied)

Published: February 16, 2023 01:11 PM GMT

The family of an Indian Catholic priest who is suspected to have committed suicide in October last year has sought an investigation alleging foul play in his death.

Father Kondru Velankani Raju, 33, who served as assistant parish priest of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vijayawada diocese in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, was found dead on Oct. 26, 2022.

His mother, Kondru Srungaram, has petitioned the Andhra Pradesh High Court now seeking directions for a probe by the Crime Investigation Department (CID), a special branch of the state police.

Her petition to the court also sought an order to exhume the body for a postmortem.

Advocate Shaik Ameena Rahamani, who is representing the priest’s family, said they will wait and see what steps the high court takes.

“The petition is likely to come up for hearing next week,” the lawyer told UCA News on Feb. 15.

Srungaram has accused the local police of hushing up the truth in connivance with "a powerful lobby" in the diocese.

Diocesan officials claimed it was a case of suicide but the family suspects Father Raju was killed.

UCA News tried to contact Bishop Joseph Raja Rao Thelangathoti of Vijaywada but he was not available for his comments.

Father Damala Vijay, the Cathedral parish priest, when contacted, maintained that Father Raju had committed suicide but refused to elaborate any further.   

Father Raju was Father Vijay’s assistant at the time of his death.

Father Raju's 55-year-old mother though questioned how a person committing suicide could have “a piece of cloth stuffed into his mouth.”

She quoted doctors saying urine and feces are evacuated in most cases when a person commits suicide by hanging, but nothing of that sort was found in her son’s case.

Both his feet were found touching the bed and even the chair supposed to have been used while committing the alleged suicide was not thrown off, she said.

Srungaram alleged that the hands and legs were black as coal though “my son was very fair” raising her suspicion that he was killed before his body was hung to make it look like a suicide.

The family claimed that a proper postmortem was not done.

“His body was taken for postmortem and returned within 15 minutes. We believe no postmortem was done,” a member of the family said on condition of anonymity.

Srungaram also questioned the absence of the bishop and other priests in the diocese at her son’s funeral service.

“The priest spoke to family members two days before his death through video call and seemed very happy. He said he was busy preparing a sermon for the coming Sunday,” Prem Kumar, a cousin, said.

Kumar told UCA News that the bishop and the priests wanted the body to be quickly buried in Vijaywada.

“But we opposed it and finally took it to our native village for burial, but neither the bishop nor any priest from the diocese came. Only a priest, who is our relative, was present,” he said.

Father Raju hailed from Indupalli in Krishna district in coastal Andhra Pradesh.

“We complained to higher authorities in the police and other concerned departments but nobody took cognizance of it. So we had to approach the high court for justice,” Kumar added.

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