HINDU NEWS

Was Lavanya being pressured to convert to Christianity?




With the Supreme Court now confirming that the Lavanya suicide case is to be investigated by the CBI, the focus will shift to what caused a 17 year old school topper to ingest pesticide which resulted in her death?


Addressing the media on 22 January 2022, Lavayna’s mother had said:


They forced our daughter to convert, tortured her, and she has left us. We need justice. She was made to wash bathrooms, sweep floors, and do accounts and was put under extreme stress. She was deeply hurt and has committed suicide. Our girl needs justice. Only if they both are arrested, we will do anything, or even accept the dead body.

Otherwise, we will not. Our girl is gone. What else have we got to lose? Whatever has happened to our girl should not happen to anyone else. It should be the first and last. No other girl should suffer this. Should not happen in Tamil Nadu or India. Please take action….




Interviewer: How long have they been trying forced conversion?


Mother: Last 2 years


Interviewer: For the past 2 years?


Mother: Yes. 2 years


Interviewer: If this has been going on for 2 years, why have you just come forward now?

Mother: Because they have tortured my girl and she is dead now.


Interviewer: Has your daughter reported to you about these attempts? Did you enquire with the school?


Mother: The responsible people are Racquel Mary and Sahaya Mary..they both need to be arrested.


Interviewer: That aside, did you complain to the school before? What was their response?


Mother: They are asking me the same question.


Interviewer: To you?


Mother: Yes to me


Interviewer: What happened then?


Mother: It resulted in a quarrel between me and the school. Our girl was supposed to finish the 10th standard that year, school was closed because of Corona, we were a bit careless and waited to get a TC once the school opened. After the Pongal holidays, once the school opened, we asked but they would not give a TC. We cannot afford it elsewhere, we wanted our girl to study. She was school first, scored 489 marks. If this is her plight what will happen to students that score only 200?


Interviewer: It is said that these allegations are false. Police are saying it is not true.

Mother: How can this be false? The police didn't say this is false. We have a video of our girl speaking the truth.


Duty of care of school


Questions are also being raised as to the gross negligence of the school in allowing easy access to poison to one of its boarders. Further, could the school have avoided Lavanya’s death by affording her timely and appropriate medical support?


FIR by CBI


The Indian CBI on 15 February 2022 named Nun Sagaya Mary as First Accused in the “unnatural death” of Lavanya -a Hindu boarder at a Christian school. Lavanya died on 16 January 2022 after ingesting pesticide a week earlier.


The FIR alleges that during the past year, Mary used to take her to an office in Karumandapam, Trichy. When her mother came to know of this, she instructed Lavanya not to go.


However, Mary continued to take Lavanya to Trichy without her mother’s knowledge.


Mary got Lavanya to clean the hostel and do other work such as removing grass from the grounds and doing cleaning with water.


“Hence, I could not concentrate on my studies,” Lavanya told investigating police.

Lavanya said that as a result she was under mental stress. “...since I was being asked to do more and more works and was also getting scolded, got vexed and took (1 ½ tumblers) of Agrosone pesticide...”


You can read Lavanya’s statement to the police here:


Bail granted after 18 day custody


After spending 18 days in prison, Sagaya Mary was granted bail on 14 February 2022.

Many reacted in anger at the news.


Abhijit Iyer-Mitra described her release as a “cruel joke” -



However, DMK MLA and Christian Goodwill Movement Head - Inigo Irudayaraj was open in his support for the controversial hostel warden, greeting her and draping her with a shawl the moment she was released from Tiruchirapalli Central Prison.


Nationwide protests erupt

Meanwhile protests have broken out in various parts of Bharat demanding “Justice for Lavanya.”


On 31 January 2022, BJP’s student wing - ABVP carried out protests in Kashi. National Minister - Sakshi Singh was present.



ABVP National General Secretary - Nidhi Tripathi was detained by Delhi Police during a demonstration outside Tamil Nadu Bhavan on the same day.


Protests extended to Jammu and Kashmir

Gujarat

Bengaluru

And Tripura

What happened?


17 year old Lavanya was a top-performing 12th Standard student at Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School, Michaelpatti, Tamil Nadu. The school is also known as Thooya Irudhaya Higher Secondary School. It is situated in Venkatesamudram village, Thiruvaiyaru. She had been a residential student at the school from 8th Standard.


On 9 January 2022, Lavanya took the pesticide which was kept in the stationary almirah in the prayer hall of the school.


The hostel cook noticed Lavanya's continual vomiting and took her to a local nurse. The nurse administered ‘tablets’ and an injection. Lavanya was then released into the care of her father.


Almost a week later, Lavanya had not notified anyone about the poison and by 15 January 2022, her health had deteriorated. Thanjavur Medical College Hospital, Dr. Soundarya then diagnosed her poisoning from scans.


Two statements


The hospital notified the Thirukattupalli police who sent a trainee Superintendent to record her statement on the morning of 16 January 2022.


A Judicial Magistrate recorded a second statement the same afternoon from Lavanya. The latter statement is referred to in court reports as Levanya’s official ‘dying declaration’.


In both statements Lavanya alleged that the hostel warden burdened her by assigning her non-academic chores and being unable to bear the pressure, she consumed the pesticide.


Upon Lavanya’s testimony, charges were registered against the school warden under the Juvenile Justice Act and Indian Penal Code as follows:

  • Section 75 and 82 of the Juvenile Justice Act which relate to duty of care and abuse of children.

  • Section 305 and 511 of the Indian Penal Code which relates to abetment to suicide.

Police arrested Mary on 18 January 2022.


Lavanya passes away


On the afternoon of 19th January 2022, Lavanya passed away due to the ingestion of pesticide.


As a consequence, the investigation was transferred to the Inspector of Police at Thiruvaiyaru’s All Women Police Station.


Was Lavanya being pressured to convert to Christianity?


On 19 January 2022, a video posted on twitter by Indu Makkal Katchi stated, “...A Christian School trys to convert a student and she attempts suicide…”.

Indu Makkal Katchi had tagged Legal Rights protection Forum @Lawinforce - who took the case further on Twitter.


Around 20 January 2022, a video of Lavanya taken separately in hospital by a man named Muthuvel, apparently by request of her father, was circulated on social media:



Four video clips regarding Lavanya have been circulating on social media. One translation states:


Video 19/01/2022 above and transcript


Levanya: [My name is] Lavanya. My dad's name is Muruganandham. In front of me, they asked my mum and dad once, whether they can convert me to Christianity and sponsor my studies there. Since then they always used to scold me and not let me stay.


Interviewer: Who asked your parents?


Lavanya: The sister who lives there


Interviewer: Name?


Lavanya: Racquel Mary


Interviewer: Michael Mary?


Lavanya: Racquel Mary


Interviewer: What else did she ask?


Lavanya: Nothing else


Interviewer: Who did she ask this to?


Lavanya: My mum and dad


Interviewer: When did she ask?


Lavanya: 2 years ago


Interviewer: Because you didn't convert they troubled you?


Lavanya: Could be


Interviewer: Ok


Father also alleges conversion attempts


Lavanya’s father alleged that the school had been pressuring Lavanya to convert to Christianity.


The father took Levanya’s video with a complaint to the Thanjavur District Superintendent of Police, Ravali Priya, to make a fresh petition.


The videos meanwhile went viral between 19 and 24 January on social media and #JusticeForLevanya started trending.


Lavanya’s parents statement





#JusticeForLavanya was trending and support started pouring in




Instead of investigating the “forced conversion” claims, the Superintendent of Police instead charged Muthuvel with ‘failure to suppress the child’s identity’.


On the 21st of January, the Superintendent of Police held a press conference in which she ruled out suicide due to forced conversion.


Meanwhile representatives of the school spoke to the media, denying any wrongdoing by the school.






Father approaches High Court


Lavanya’s father took issue with the Superintendent of Police's media statements and on Friday 21 January filed a seeking transfer of the investigation ‘to the CB-CID or any other independent investigative agency under the supervision of R1’.


Counsel for the petitioner, M.KARTHIKEYA VENKITACHALAPATHY, submitted that the father was not confident the police conducted the investigation adequately given they were pressuring the parents and the videographer of Lavanya’s statements in hospital.

The court observed that police ‘virtually threatened the person who shot the video’ yet Muthuvel had only done so at the behest of the father and which had brought the authenticity of the child’s conversion case to public awareness.


The court ordered that:


…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…


Hearing continues on 28 January


When the hearing of the case re-commenced on 28 January, counsel for the father, Karthikeya Venkatachalapathy, submitted that due to events, the parents had lost faith in both District and State police and filed a petition seeking the investigation be transferred not to the CB-CID State Police or ‘any other independent investigating agency’, but that it be upgraded to a CBI investigation.

He raised with the court that:

  • The police had publicly declared the conversion angle ruled out, and this was immediately after the video of Levanya had been shared by permission of the father on social media.

  • The charges regarding identity of the child being revealed were considered alongside the politically expedient timing of the Superintendent's decision to run a press conference immediately dismissing the video content.

  • The education department investigation had pre-emptively gave ‘clean chit’ to the school on that matter and the police had selectively leaked portions of the video to strategically bolster their statements ruling out conversion.

  • The statements by the child on video must be taken as further dying decree or ‘res gestae’ meaning that their weight was as strong as testimony before the court and its veracity was indisputable.

At this hearing it became known that publication of the videos was by an unknown person. Further, a third video circulated on social media had been used to present a counter narrative against the conversion and sourced from sealed evidence delivered to the court.


Intervening, the school management claimed that Lavanya’s parents were unstable, the father an alcoholic and the stepmother had likely pushed the child to suicide. The school also claimed that Lavanya had issues with her mental health.

The father attributed the harassment by the school warden to the refusal of Lavanya to convert.


Mentioning that complaints made to childline some two years prior were leaked into the media, the court argued, further demonstrated a conspiracy to distort the public perception against the role of forced conversion on the child’s mistreatment and subsequent suicide.


Madras High Court orders CBI investigation


Handing down its judgement on 31 January 2022, the Madras High Court ordered that CBI will undertake an independent investigation in the case.


The court observed:


...What led the child to commit suicide has to be investigated. Before the investigation officer, the dying declaration of the child is available. Their authenticity is undoubted. Without doing so, District Superintendent of Police wanted to completely suppress the conversion angle altogether. They wanted to fasten the entire blame initially on Sister Saghayamary. But now the parents are in the dock…


The court observed that police had, via the state government, made public selective segments of the video to deliberately cast doubt on the claims to conversion made by the child to camera. The public video had discussed accusations of forced labour and harassment by the school warden whilst the formerly private one referred to conversion. The court stated that both videos should be taken together as a whole.


The court noted that counter narratives against the parents being to blame were inconsistent with the child’s dying decree which only mentioned Saghaya Mary. Given that the court had a duty to render posthumous justice to the child, and that State Ministers had already ‘taken a stand’, the court found that ‘investigation cannot continue with the State police.’


Justice GR Swaminathan upon allowing the plea, found the petitioner's concerns justified. The court denounced press statements made in the interim by the Superintendent of Police and the Education Department. Justice GR Swaminathan said:


Instead of ordering the investigation officer to take the additional materials to account, the S.P. directed local police to register and FIR against the person who had taken the video…The S.P. virtually threatened the person who shot the video. Instead she should have goaded the investigation to take the religious angle into account.





Conversion complaint of the parents

In a video which surfaced on 22 January Lavayna’s parents made statements to the media. They accused the school of pressuring their daughter to convert and torturing her for not agreeing.


Video transcript


Mother: They forced our daughter to convert, tortured her, and she has left us. We need justice. She was made to wash bathrooms, sweep floors, and do accounts and was put under extreme stress. She was deeply hurt and has committed suicide. Our girl needs justice. Only if they both are arrested, we will do anything, or even accept the dead body. Otherwise, we will not. Our girl is gone. What else have we got to lose? Whatever has happened to our girl should not happen to anyone else. It should be the first and last. No other girl should suffer this. Should not happen in Tamil Nadu or India. Please take action.

Interviewer: How long have they been trying forced conversion?

Mother: Last 2 years

Interviewer: For the past 2 years?

Mother: Yes. 2 years

Interviewer: If this has been going on for 2 years, why have you just come forward now?

Mother: Because they have tortured my girl and she is dead now

Interviewer: Has your daughter reported to you about these attempts? Did you enquire with the school?

Mother: The responsible people are Racquel Mary and Sahaya Mary..they both need to be arrested.

Interviewer: That aside, did you complain to the school before? What was their response?

Mother: They are asking me the same question.

Interviewer: To you?

Mother: Yes to me

Interviewer: What happened then?

Mother: It resulted in a quarrel between me and the school. Our girl was supposed to finish the 10th standard that year, school was closed because of Corona, we were a bit careless and waited to get a TC once the school opened. After the Pongal holidays, once the school opened, we asked but they would not give a TC. We cannot afford it elsewhere, we wanted our girl to study. She was school first, scored 489 marks. If this is her plight what will happen to students that score only 200?

Interviewer: It is said that these allegations are false. Police are saying it is not true.

Mother: How can this be false? The police didn't say this is false. We have a video of our girl speaking the truth.


Hearings 24-25 January


The matter came back for hearing at Madras High Court on Monday the 24th of January.


Muthuvel, the videographer, had been directed to provide his phone with recordings for forensic analysis, to be returned in two days by Tamil Nadu Forensic Science Lab Mylapore, Chennai. Similarly other reports were to be returned by the same date from regional Forensic Science Lab and the post mortem.


The Investigation Officer was to decide whether, based on further information of the parents, if there should be alteration of the report by the following evening.

Orders pursuant to these items would follow on 28 January.


Hearing 28 January


By 28th January, counsel for the father, Karthikeya Venkatachalapathy, submitted that due to events, the parents had lost faith in both District and State police and filed a petition seeking the investigation be transferred not to the CB-CID State Police or ‘any other independent investigating agency’, but that it be upgraded to a CBI investigation.

Issues were the police had publicly declared the conversion angle ruled out, and this was immediately after the video of Levanaya had been shared by permission of the father on social media. The charges regarding identity of the child being revealed were considered alongside the politically expedient timing of the Superintendent's decision to run a press conference immediately dismissing the video content.


The education department investigation pre-emptively gave ‘clean chit’ to the school on that matter and the police had selectively leaked portions of the video to strategically bolster their statements ruling out conversion.


The counsel for the father submitted that the statements by the child on video must be taken as further dying decree or ‘res gestae’ meaning that their weight was as strong as testimony before the court and veracity indisputable.


At this hearing it became known that publication of the videos was by an unknown person. Further, a third video circulated on social media had been used to present a counter narrative against the conversion and sourced from sealed evidence delivered to the court. This indicated limited possibilities and raised doubts against the police.

The Prosecutor argued the father had withheld information concerning the child’s consumption of poison until late. They claimed the video was released only after the child’s death despite the police taking three recordings from the child.


The politicisation after death raised by the Prosecutor was disputed as counsel for the father pointed out a similar case where protests led to further investigations and new findings of a child presumed to have committed suicide who was in fact thrown down a well.


Further accusations were made that Muthuvel provided the phone yet refused to tell the police the number of videos made or recipients.


Police claimed the investigation was ‘on track’ and advised 63 witnesses had been interviewed so far. The Prosecutor said:


When the victim girl complained FIR was registered immediately and a person (nun) was arrested the next day. We did not wait. Now they are disrupting the investigation. They don’t want the investigation to continue in a fair manner.


The Additional Public Prosecutor added remarks. He claimed that none of the witnesses, including students and local residents agreed there was a conversion angle since they had not experienced this. The students allegedly reported that Levanya suffered at the hands of her stepmother upon the death of her mother eight years prior. He claimed she stayed at the school for this reason and did not want to return home for holidays. He denied any accusations the investigation was off track and suggested the court overstepped its judicial parameters by attempting to micromanage the police.


The intervenor argued the parents were unstable, the father an alcoholic and the stepmother had likely pushed the child to suicide. He claimed the video was set up to implicate Sister Sagaya Mary ‘who had been taking care of the child as her own daughter’.


The school senior management in this case is the ‘Intervenor’. The intervenor proclaimed the virtues of the school who welcomed ‘all castes’ and predominantly Hindus without a problem in 300 years. He accused the videographer of fabricating a narrative along conversion lines and having a criminal record of attacking Christians.

The school management counsel, Anulraj further claimed that the school knew the student ‘in and out’ and had submitted an affidavit detailing issues of her mental health and with her step-mother such that the child preferred to remain at the school than return home.


Noting the failure to earlier address issues of conversion which the parents, he claimed, had backdated two years, nor to add such claims immediately prior to the death, the management suggested that in addition, two years earlier the child had called a helpline to complain against her parents for mistreatment.


The management further stated


There are no skeletons in our cupboard. Our house is clean...We are on a media trial; every priest and every nun is viewed with suspicion now by the general public. If there has been conversion; action may be taken against us. But this must not be based on the complaint of the petitioners who has been alleged of mistreating the girl child.


In this statement, to clarify, the school management counter-alleges that Levanya’s parents should not raise issues about the school because they are, on the basis of a helpline call two years ago, 'unfit parents'.


The father attributed the harassment by the school warden to the refusal of Levanya to convert. Mentioning that complaints made to childline some two years prior were leaked into the media, the court argued, further demonstrated a conspiracy to distort the public perception against the role of forced conversion on the child’s mistreatment and subsequent suicide.


The court affirmed that counter narratives against the parents being to blame were inconsistent with the child’s dying decree which only mentioned Sister Sanghamary. Given that the court had a duty to render posthumous justice to the child, and that State Ministers had already ‘taken a stand’, the court ruled that ‘investigation cannot continue with the State police.’


Justice GR Swaminathan upon allowing the plea, found the petitioner's concerns justified. The court denounced press statements made in the interim by the Superintendent of Police and the Education Department. Justice GR Swaminathan said:

Instead of ordering the investigation officer to take the additional materials to account, the S.P. directed local police to register and FIR against the person who had taken the video…The S.P. virtually threatened the person who shot the video. Instead she should have goaded the investigation to take the religious angle into account.



Justice GR Swaminathan said he could not rule out conversion. In his decision he provided scriptural, popular culture and historic examples of the potential for conversion in the village and region, including discussion of the name, Michaelpati.

Given the focus of conversion is made against one hostel warden and not the school by Lavanaya doesn’t account for the role the general culture of the school may have played in the issues of this first class school topper. For example, that the warden made her do the school accounts may indicate her being groomed to take on a role within the school administration which is reserved for those who are nuns.


His honour concluded:


When the learned Senior Counsel asserted that he does not believe in conversion, I knew that he was speaking from his heart. But the question is whether Sister Saghayamary and Sister Rachel Mary are made of the same fibre. I hope investigation by CBI will bring out the truth.


You can read the full High Court judgement here

Tamil Nadu DGP challenges High Court order


Tamil Nadu’s Director of Police then appealed to the Supreme Court challenging the High Court’s orders.


Supreme Court directs CBI investigation to continue


Refusing to intervene, the Supreme Court on 14 February directed the Tamil Nadu Government to handover all papers to the CBI. It told the State government to not make the case a ‘prestigious issue.’


https://liveadalat.com/supreme-court-cbi-probe-into-lavanya-suicide-case-will-go-on/








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