THRISSUR, India — As the Church in India eagerly awaits an announcement of the date for the beatification of Clarist Sister Rani Maria, whose beatification was approved by Pope Francis in early April, one person outside the Church who is equally enthusiastic is Samandar Singh — the Hindu who fatally stabbed her 22 years ago.
“What happened is very bad, and it should not have happened,” said Singh, who stabbed Sister Rani Maria more than 50 times in front of dozens of bus passengers.
“But what is happening now is good. I am looking forward to it.”
Singh shared his thoughts about his unique situation in an April 29 interview with the Register on the first anniversary of the death of Carmelite of Mary Immaculate Father Michael Porattukara, who was known by the Hindus he ministered to as “Swami Sadananda.”
“I was seething with anger and counting days in jail. I had planned that on the day I would be released from jail I would head for the house of Jeevan Singh [who instigated the murder] to kill him and hang myself on a tree. It was at that time Father Sadananda came to visit me in jail in 2001,” recounted Samandar Singh at St. Antony’s Church in Ollur in the suburbs of Thrissur, the native parish of the priest.
Instigated by Jeevan Singh, a prominent local Hindu leader, Samandar boarded the bus in which 41-year-old Sister Rani Maria was traveling en route to Indore Feb. 25, 1995, in order to catch a train to southern Kerala state.
When the bus reached a jungle area near Udainagar, Samandar started stabbing the nun in front of the other bus passengers. The bus stopped, and the attacker pulled the nun outside to continue the stabbing spree, inflicting dozens of wounds on the defenseless nun.
The Clarist nun, elevated as a “Servant of God” in 2003, is set to be beatified next November. She had stoked the ire of local business people due to her social work among village women: She organized self-help groups to wean them away from the clutches of aggressive money lenders.
The Swami and the Sister
Father Porattukara, who had been visiting jails as part of his social ministry, first made contact with Samandar Singh in early 2002 and visited him repeatedly in jail in subsequent weeks. At the time, Samandar had reason to be furious with Jeevan Singh, who failed to ensure his acquittal as promised. After being convicted, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996. His wife walked out on him with their son.
“Swami Sadanand made me get over my urge for revenge. He changed my mind,” recalled Samandar, with glistening eyes.
Three months after their first meeting, Father Porattukara astonished Singh by advising that he would bring Clarist Sister Selmy — Sister Maria’s younger sister — to the jail on the Hindu festival day of Rakhi (“thread”), when “sisters” tie special threads on the hands of “brothers,” celebrating their protective bond, irrespective of whether they are actual relatives.
“I could not believe it — the younger sister of the nun I killed tying rakhi on my hand that stabbed her sister mercilessly. It was on Aug. 22,” he remembered, as if savoring the joy anew.
Transformed by Love
After that, Sister Selmy, accompanied by Father Porattukara, visited the prisoner each Rakhi festival day until his release.
The priest did not end his efforts there. Singh was released from jail in 2006, after declarations requesting his release were signed by Sister Selmy, her parents and the Clarist congregation officials.
After his release, Singh visited the convent at Udainagar to meet with his new “sister,” Selmy.
When Sister Selmy went home to southern Kerala state in January 2007 to visit her ailing 82-year-old father, Singh accompanied her so that he could meet her parents and apologize to them.
“The loving response from the Christians has transformed me,” said the 50-year-old farmer, who now shares his earnings with the needy and spends his free time doing good to others.
He said he can’t underestimate the impact Father Porattukara, who died April 26, 2016, had on him. He traveled to his native parish to attend a Mass for him.
Following the memorial Mass, Samandar Singh attended the anniversary celebration at the church auditorium, attended by hundreds.
Singh’s story has drawn international attention with the documentary The Heart of a Murderer, which portrays Singh with the ascetic priest.
While Father Porattukara brought Singh close to the Church and set his life on a new course, this also led to embarrassment and tension for Singh.
Some media networks spread the false story that Singh had been “converted and baptized” while in jail and misrepresented him as a “great convert” to Christianity.
Following the reports in some Christian media characterizing him inaccurately as a convert, Singh said, Hindu fundamentalist groups threatened him for “betraying” Hinduism and even planned to hold a public “reconversion” ceremony for him.
“Now they know I have not become a Christian. But I love Christians because they have changed me,” reiterated Singh.
Amid threats from Hindu fundamentalists, Singh had no hesitation to be at the tomb of Sister Maria on Feb. 25, 2015. He even lined up to present the offertory before a dozen bishops on the 20th anniversary of her death.
The attitude of local Hindus to Christians in his region, Singh noted, has also “changed a lot” since 1995.
“The people are less apprehensive of Christians now — they do not trust rumors anymore,” Singh said. “The spread of mobile phones and television have also made them more aware of the social reality.”