Tamil Nadu girl suicide: BJP seeks CBI probe, Madurai Archbishop denies religious conversion

The BJP in Tamil Nadu on Sunday demanded a CBI inquiry into the suicide of a 16-year-old girl in Thanjavur district earlier this month allegedly over harassment and pressure of religious conversion.
An undated video clip had surfaced on the social media in which the Tamil Nadu girl, who died by suicide, said two years ago, her school warden had urged her parents to convert her to Christianity with the promise of sponsoring her education. (HT)
An undated video clip had surfaced on the social media in which the Tamil Nadu girl, who died by suicide, said two years ago, her school warden had urged her parents to convert her to Christianity with the promise of sponsoring her education. (HT)
Updated on Jan 24, 2022 01:04 AM IST
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By, Chennai

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Tamil Nadu on Sunday demanded a CBI inquiry into the suicide of a 16-year-old girl in Thanjavur district earlier this month allegedly over harassment and pressure of religious conversion and hit out against the ruling DMK government over the incident.

The party on Sunday held a protest in Chennai demanding a CBI probe into matter and also sought the dismissal of the Thanjavur superintendent of police Ravali Priya Gandhapuneni who has stated that the parents of the child had not complained of religious conversion in the first complaint they filed.

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Madurai, Antony Pappusamy, on Sunday released a statement urging that the incident not be given a religious colour.

The class 12 student attempted suicide on January 9 due to alleged harassment by her school’s warden and was rushed to the Thanjavur Medical College Hospital for treatment. She died ten days later.

An undated video clip had surfaced on social media in which the girl said that two years ago, her school warden had urged her parents to convert her to Christianity with the promise of sponsoring her education. An unidentified man who is recording the video asks her if the alleged harassment happened because she didn’t convert. “Could be,” the girl responds. HT was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the video clip.

On Sunday, the BJP demanded SP Gandhapuneni’s dismissal for stating that the parents of the child had not complained of religious conversion in the first complaint they filed. “This is a white lie and the SP has to be dismissed,” Khushbu Sundar, BJP’s national executive committee member, who led the protest told reporters. “Why is the chief minister M K Stalin not speaking of this child? Why has no one from the coalition spoken about this? Is it a fear that they will lose minority votes if they speak on religious conversion in Tamil Nadu?”

Congress leader and commissioner of TN’s minority commission S. Peter Alphonse took to Twitter to dismiss the allegation. “Of the approximately 1000 students currently studying (in the same school), 70% are Hindus, 5% are Muslims and 25% are Christians,” he said. “Hindu teachers also work. Will conversion that has not happened in three centuries take place now? Tamil Nadu will not allow hate politics which is full of social unity and religious harmony!”

The girl’s father has moved court seeking an inquiry either by the CB-CID or any other independent investigation agency. In an interim order passed on Saturday during an urgent hearing of the case, justice G R Swaminathan of the Madurai bench of the Madras high court directed the principal district judge of Thanjavur to nominate a judicial magistrate for recording the statement of the petitioner and his wife under Section 164 of Cr.Pc on Sunday.

A copy should be made available in a sealed cover for the Court to examine during the next hearing on Monday, the court said.

“The respondent police are restrained from harassing the person who had taken the video of the child, in which, she is found making an allegation that she was called upon to convert to Christianity. The focus of the police authorities should be on the circumstances that led to the suicide of the child and it cannot be directed against the person who had taken the video,” the court said in its orders.

In his statement on Sunday, Pappusamy said that they are in support of legal action to be taken against those responsible, including the arrest of the warden. He denied that proselytising activities were being carried out in these schools which are run by nuns.

“Religious political forces which have sought to find a real cause for the tragedy at the school, have resorted to the lie of proselytising to divert attention from the problems and to disturb religious harmony through false propaganda,” he said.

This issue took a political and religious turn after the video began circulating on social media, most prominently shared by Tamil Nadu’s BJP president K Annamalai. “Conversion–a poisonous plant is spreading fast in Tamil Nadu,” Annamalai tweeted tagging chief minister Stalin demanding that the state bring this under control and compensate the victim’s family. A hashtag has also been trending since Friday seeking justice for the girl. Since then the BJP and Hindu outfits have been protesting over this issue.

A minister close to Stalin said that there has been no bias in investigations. “We will take action against whoever is wrong. The opposition parties do not have issues to take up so they want to create trouble over this,” the minister said.

Speaking to this correspondent on Friday, SP Gandhapuneni had said that the time, date and person who recorded the video has not been ascertained. “As of now, we cannot consider that video as a dying declaration. There are certain procedures to be followed to consider something as a dying declaration,” she had said.

“It can only be considered as a video and based on this video; we are recording statements of the probable eye-witnesses.” She added that the parents had filed an additional petition on Thursday, regarding which, an official statement was recorded on Friday. When asked if this petition mentions a complaint of religious conversion, Gandhapuneni denied. She was not reachable for comment on Sunday.

The Thirukattupalli police station recorded the child’s statement on January 15 and police registered a case under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. Police have now included 305 (abetment to suicide) under the IPC.

During a press conference on Thursday, the SP had warned of action against those sharing the video revealing the identity of the victim and the family -- an offence under the JJ Act. “We cannot reveal the identity of not just children who are victims of sexual crimes but also children who are in need of care and protection,” she had said.

Reacting to the SP’s press conference, Annamalai took to Twitter to say that the police are “hell bent” on changing the course of the case. “There is a videographed confession statement of the girl. Did the SP come to the conclusion it’s fake? If yes, how?”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022