While the Scripture Union has initiated an inquiry into the matter, they admit to TNM that they don’t even have an Internal complaints committee in place.

Picture of a young girl seated by the window staring outside
news Crime Monday, October 05, 2020 - 18:53

Scripture Union, a Christian organisation that propagates the Bible to school students across Tamil Nadu, has suspended one of its preachers after allegations of inappropriate behaviour and harassment surfaced. Over 20 screenshots shared by past students on Twitter show the accused preacher, Samuel Jaisundar, initiating inappropriate conversations with children. Three other staff are also under enquiry for alleged inappropriate behaviour and for enabling predatory behaviour.

Samuel Jaisundar, the suspended preacher, is currently posted as the secretary of the Scripture Union's (SU) English section publications. On Sunday, a Twitter user with the handle @joelgiftson17 shared multiple screenshots, allegedly of Samuel’s conversations with minor girls. In several screenshots, Samuel asks the girls who are between the ages of 10-15 to share photos of themselves in short clothes.

Samuel and his team regularly visited Christian missionary run schools across Tamil Nadu for over a decade and conducted a Vocational Bible School (VBS) event. He also conducted summer camps for Bible studies. TNM spoke to some of the young women who have accused the preacher of behaving inappropriately with them when they were younger.

One woman, who was a student in a Chennai school in 2016, said Samuel tried to coax her to meet him alone in his residence in Kilpauk. She was just 15 years old at the time.

"He said I look very pretty in my uniform and that he wants pictures of me in regular clothes. He began to use terms like 'chellam' and 'thangam'. I ignored it but he then tried to force me to join a camp where you had to stay with him for three days. I refused to go. That is when he sent me the address to a Kilpauk house where he stayed and asked me to come and meet him there personally. He said he wanted me to hug him and other inappropriate things," she said.

The student said she told a male friend about this, who warned the preacher sternly.

Another young woman TNM spoke to, Stella (name changed), said she was 14 years old when Samuel began messaging her on Facebook about her dressing choices, calling her short skirts cute. Stella is now in her final year of college.

 

(Screenshot of conversations that Samuel had with Stella)

"It was only when he texted me two months ago in the same tone that I realised something was wrong," she said. The student, who is from Chennai, had posted a photo on how the lockdown had liberated women from wearing bras on her social media. "I just used to think he was complimenting me. I didn't realise what was really happening," she added.

(Screenshot of conversations that Samuel had with Stella)

The students TNM spoke to say that spirituality was the mask that was used to hide inappropriate behaviour.

Catherine (name changed) too had a similar experience, but in her case, it was another preacher in the team named Reubun Clement who sent her inappropriate texts when she was 16 years old, she said.

"It started with normal conversations regarding studies and slowly moved on to what I wear and how I look. That is when I started feeling very uncomfortable. He used to ask me to take selfies and send them to him. I was immature then and innocently sent him all my pictures. I regret it now," she said. Catherine finally drew the line when Reuben demanded to see a picture of her in a 'skirt'.

Though Catherine does not have a screenshot of her chat from 2016, another screenshot posted by a different girl shows a similar conversation that Reuben had initiated. 

(Screenshot of conversations that Reuben had with a student)

A Twitter user who is helping collate the allegations being made by young girls against the preachers told TNM that so far they have screenshots and complaints from 25 girls across five schools in four cities of the state.

"When victims complained to other members of SU, they were shot down and slut shamed," Catherine alleged.

Amongst those who allegedly discouraged the students from complaining was a woman staff member. When the students told her about the inappropriate behaviour, she allegedly asked them to remain silent.

When TNM reached out to SU with these allegations, they claimed to have come to know of this only over the last two days. Samuel Jaisunder was suspended from the organisation on Sunday night and barred from carrying out any Scripture Union related work. Three other staff, including Reuben Clement, Janet Ebenezer Mary and a man named Albert, are currently under investigation.

"The welfare of children and young people is of paramount importance to the Scripture Union and we take all necessary steps to ensure that our staff and volunteers maintain the highest standards and good practices," SU has said in a press release.

However when TNM questioned if they have an Internal Committee to carry out a probe, the answer was in the negative.

"We don't have an ICC," said Joshua Kirubaraj, national director of Scripture Union. "We have just a board. Just like that it came out and spread like anything. We had to immediately take action. The enquiry will be tomorrow or day after. A lawyer and proceeding officer from outside, a council secretary and a principal from a school will be part of the enquiry committee."

 

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