The death of a Class 12 student in Tamil Nadu has become a huge row with her parents and the BJP alleging that the child died by suicide after she was under pressure to convert to Christianity. Lavanya M, who was in a boarding house called Sacred Hearts Higher Secondary School in Michaelpatti in Thanjavur, was admitted to a private hospital in Thanjavur and passed away on January 19. TNM spoke to Thanjavur Superintendent of Police Ravali Priya Gandhapuneni at length and she said that the police are investigating all angles, including the allegation that Lavanya was facing pressure to convert to Christianity. But for this, police will have to first find the origin of the video that many including BJP chief K Annamalai shared.
"My daughter was tortured. She refused to convert, she was made to do all jobs by the warden. When she attempted suicide, the school did not inform us. The hospital informed us, even the police did not help," Lavanya's father Muruganantham said.
The SP added, however, that there is no clarity on who shot the 44-second clip that is doing rounds on social media. “They asked my parents even in front of me once, 'shall I convert your daughter to Christianity, get her education?'” the girl can be heard saying in the video. She later names the nun, a woman identified as Raqhel Mary, as her alleged harasser. She adds that the nun had asked her parents to convert Lavanya about two years ago.
“The parents approached the police with a complaint on January 15 and an FIR was registered. They accused the warden of making Lavanya do many domestic chores, maintaining account books and said that she was under stress. On January 16, at 4.10 pm, Lavanya’s last declaration was recorded on video by the Judicial Magistrate. She died on January 19 and therefore we consider her statement to the magistrate as the last declaration. However, on January 20, the parents approached us with this short clip and alleged that the child was forced to convert.” The SP added that both in the first complaint and in the girl’s dying declaration, the attempt to convert was not mentioned.
She further explained the police’s dilemma. “This recording was given to us after the child died. And we don’t know when this was taken, whether this was taken before or after the magistrate recorded the statement. We have asked the parents to respond. Once we have clarity, we will investigate that angle too,” she said.
The SP also pointed out that they will inspect if the new video complies to section 32 of the Evidence Act and if no leading questions were asked. This section states that a statement made by a person “as to the cause of his death, or as to any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death, in cases in which the cause of that person's death comes into question” is relevant even if the person was under expectation of death at the time they were making the statement. Further, the police are also on the lookout for the person who shot the video since under Section 74(1) of the Juvenile Justice Act, no media should reveal the identity of a child in conflict with law or a child in need of care and protection through publication of any media, including in audio-visual format.
Meanwhile, 62-year-old Sagaya Mary, the warden in question, was remanded and sent to judicial custody in a Trichy prison.
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.