The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has said that the body of 17-year-old Lavanya, who died by suicide in Thanjavur, should be recieved by her parents and cremated on January 22, Saturday. Justice GS Swaminathan was hearing the student’s father’s plea seeking a CB-CID inquiry into his daughter’s death. The High Court said that the Thanjavur police should conduct a proper probe and investigate the 44-second clip doing the rounds on social media, in which Lavanya can be heard saying that two years ago, a woman called Raquel Mary had asked her to convert to Christianity, which she and her parents refused. However, the HC said that the police should not harass the person who had taken the video, and the police’s investigation should concentrate on the circumstances that led to the student’s suicide.
The girl's father Muruganantham complained to the court that the Thanjavur police were pressuring them in the case. The dying statement recorded in writing by the police, and the FIR registered by the police, say that Lavanya was tortured by her hostel warden Sagaya Mary, exploited by the warden to do her personal work, which was the reason for her attempting suicide; Lavanya’s parents have however said that the mistreatment was because Lavanya had refused to convert to Christianity.
The High Court has now asked the girl’s parents to appear before the Thanjavur Judicial Magistrate and record their statements. The Principal District Judge in Thanjavur has been directed to nominate a Judicial Magistrate for this. The parents’ statement will be submitted to the High Court on Monday, January 24, in a sealed cover.
“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 High Court said.
The High Court added that since there is no allegation of sexual harassment and the post-mortem has not been doubted, a second post-mortem is not necessary. The court has asked that the girl’s body be taken to her hometown and her last rites be conducted on Saturday. The court has directed District Collector of Thanjavur to make appropriate arrangements to take the body of the child to her native village. “I make it clear that the final rites will be performed in the customary mode and the police shall not interfere with the said performance,” the court said.
The court will continue hearing the case on Monday at 4 pm for further orders.
Lavanya, a student of Sacred Hearts Higher Secondary School in Michaelpatti in Thanjavur, was staying in the hostel provided by the school and passed away on January 19 at the Thanjavur Medical College. Three days before her death, on January 16, Lavanya had recorded a statement before the Magistrate and described in detail the kind of torture she had been subjected to by Sagaya Mary, the hostel warden.
In the written statement recorded by the Magistrate, Lavanya said that, Sagaya Mary, the hostel warden, used to force her to do the accounts for the hostel, and mistreated her regularly. Sagaya Mary took her along to submit the hostel accounts at a convent, despite Lavanya’s parents disallowing this. She would also abuse and beat Lavanya, the girl said in the statement, and refused to give her food properly when she wasn’t able to pay the hostel fees. In this statement, Lavanya made no mention of any coercion to convert.
A day after her death, a video surfaced on social media, in which Lavanya can be heard saying that she and her parents were asked to convert by Raquel Mary, a nun who works at the Sacred Hearts school. The person recording the video asks Lavanya if she was tortured because she refused to convert, to which Lavanya says, “It could be.” Thanjavur Superintendent of Police Ravali Priya Gandhapuneni told TNM on January 22 that they had received a statement regarding this video and will investigate when it was recorded and by whom. The SP had earlier said that only after getting the full video and details of when it was shot can the police decide if this was indeed a dying declaration and whether leading questions were asked to Lavanya.
Though Sagaya Mary, the warden named in the written dying declaration, was arrested soon after the teenager died, Raquel Mary, who is a nun at the same school, has not been detained yet. This is because there is no direct evidence yet linking her to Lavanya's death, the SP said.
If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.
State health department's suicide helpline: 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)
Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584
Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222
Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.
State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 amd and 7 pm)
Aasara offers support to inidviduals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.
24x7 Helpline: 9820466726
Click here for working helplines across India.