Citing the recent suicide of a 17-year-old student in Thanjavur, BJP MP Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay has moved the Supreme Court seeking a national law against forced conversions. The plea has sought directions from the apex court to the Union government and states to take stringent steps to control fraudulent religious conversion by "intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits." The plea also seeks an NIA or a CBI inquiry into the student’s suicide, whose death has caused a political fight after a video of the student went viral after her death, in which she had alleged that a nun at the hostel, Raquel Mary, had tried to force her and her parents to convert to Christianity two years ago.
In his plea, Ashwini Kumar claims that "injury caused to the citizens is extremely large because there is not even one district which is free of religious conversion by 'hook and crook and the carrot and the stick.”
“Incidents are reported every week throughout the country where conversion is done by intimidating, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits and also by using black magic, superstition, miracles but Centre and States have not taken stringent steps to stop this menace," the BJP MP claimed.
His plea added that a "nationalised" law against forced conversions needs to be passed for practical enforceability as state anti-conversion laws do not precisely define fraud, coercion, and inducement. "The evidence of deceitful religious conversion can be accessed through social media, primarily on YouTube and Facebook. The Foreign-funded individuals and NGOs are provided with a road map and a monthly target about the number of religious conversions that shall be carried out," the plea further said.
The PIL (public interest litigation) stated that conversion is a pan-India problem and the Union government must enact a law and get it implemented throughout the country.
"The law should have in-depth scrutiny on foreign funds as many individuals operate under the veil of NGOs. The Law should also include provisions to restrict foreign NGOs from entering India during national calamities. Initially, the NGOs extend help but gradually, they start converting affected poor people, finding an opportunity as they are vulnerable and need help during calamity," the PIL claimed.
The plea has also sought directions to the Law Commission of India to prepare a report as well as a Bill to control religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits. The plea has also asked directions to the “National Investigation Agency/Central Bureau of Investigation and/or National Human Right Commission/National Commission of Protection of Child Rights to investigate the root-cause” of the student’s death.
It is to be noted that the Madras High Court has already ordered a CBI probe into the student’s death. The student, who lived in a boarding house called Sacred Hearts Higher Secondary School in Michaelpatti in Thanjavur, died by suicide on January 19. After her death, a video emerged of her, which was shot when she was admitted to hospital two days before her death. In the 44-second video, 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. Based on her declaration, the Thirukattupalli police arrested and remanded the school hostel warden.
A few days later, another video emerged, but this did not have any mention of conversion. In this video, she narrated that she took the step to end her life after extra work by the hostel warden made her fall behind in her studies.
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 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.
With PTI inputs