A former national athlete who was strong and fit but whose health deteriorated after an alleged exorcism. A woman with a history of mental illness who may have met infamous murderer Adrian Lim, drinking his blood and entering into a trance together.
Such contrasting portraits of the same woman — 50-year-old Madam Amutha Valli — emerged on the first day of her civil suit against Novena Church over an alleged exorcism. Yesterday’s hearing also drew vastly different accounts of what happened in the church on the night of Aug 10, 2004.
Mdm Valli is suing the church and eight people for damages arising from what she believes to be rites of exorcism. According to Mdm Valli, the alleged exorcism, performed by two Catholic priests with the help of seven church helpers — one of whom has migrated and against whom no charges will be pursued — had left her traumatised and unable to work.
Opening his client’s case yesterday, lawyer R S Bajwa said this “is not a case against freedom of religion”. Rather, this is about the imposition of a religious ritual on Mdm Valli, without checking her medical condition, he argued.
“We are not saying the defendants acted with malice or wicked intentions,” Mr Bajwa said. “They may have wanted to help the plaintiff. But what they did they should not have done … they have caused damage to her.”
But lawyer Tito Issac, acting on behalf of Novena Church and Father Simon Tan, one of the two priests, called Mdm Valli’s allegations “unbelievable”. He said Mdm Valli had been “slithering like a snake, shouting and screaming like Satan and marching like a soldier” before the alleged exorcism at the church.
Father Tan, who had been approached by Mdm Valli’s family, had to help her in his duty as a priest to conduct a prayer session, argued Mr Issac.
Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim, who is defending Father Jacob Ong, the other priest involved, also described Mdm Valli’s allegations as an “incredible story”.
Mr Yim sought to draw parallels to what happened to Mdm Valli some 20 years ago. Between 1986 and 1989, he said, she had sought treatment at National University Hospital (NUH) for a psychiatric condition.
Mr Yim told the High Court that Mdm Valli’s condition was so serious she had to be relieved from her job and compensated $30,000 by her telco industry employer.
He said evidence would be produced during the course of the civil suit that Mdm Valli had allegedly told a doctor she no longer was suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, barely a week after leaving the firm.
Calling her current allegations a part of “a well-hatched scam”, Mr Yim urged the court to consider Mdm Valli’s previous conduct. Two days after the alleged exorcism at the church, she had apparently remarked to doctors she felt the defendants “were all silly” and that she “(was) enjoying the stupidity of the situation”.
Extended surveillance, conducted by private investigators for more than 1,000 hours, would also prove Mdm Valli was putting on a false front, said the defendants’ lawyers.
Video footage recorded after the civil suit was filed showed that Mdm Valli was able to walk independently, and visit the gym and public bathrooms alone. She would only appear frail, weak and pale during her medical appointments, they argued.
Lawyer Anthony Lee, who is representing three of the church volunteers, also painted an unflattering picture of Mdm Valli. He said she had apparently met convicted murderer Lim — described in reports as a medium — twice in the early 1980s, drinking his blood and entering into a trance together. She even received electric shock treatment from Lim, Mr Lee said.
After her bout of mental and psychiatric disorders in the late ’80s, Mdm Valli turned to alcohol in 1990, downing a bottle of gin a day, Mr Lee said. Ten years after she developed the habit, she suffered another breakdown and had to be admitted to the Institute of Mental Health. She later developed another dependence in 2003 on a powerful sleeping pill, he added.
But Mdm Valli’s daughter, Ms Subashini Jeyabal, testified that she “did not know” her mother had been battling alcoholism and health problems.
Mr Issac then suggested that the 22-year-old knew her mother had been drinking, but had “put on a brave front for the public eye”.
Ms Jeyabal replied: “This is very far from the truth. I am here to speak the truth.”