Between conversion costs, complaints and counter-complaints
Monday, the CBI, which took over the investigation of the State Police by order of the High Court, began its investigation.
The girl, whose family lived in Vadugappalayam village, Ariyalur district, was staying at a school hostel run by Christian missionaries near her school in Michaelpatti village, about 20 km from Thanjavur. Police said that on January 7, she asked permission to go home, but the hostel management refused her permission, telling her that the holidays for Pongal, which fell on January 14, were coming anyway. and then she could go home. However, on January 9, the girl consumed pesticides and fell ill, after which her parents were notified. On January 10, they took her home.
The next day she was taken to a local clinic near her home, but as her condition worsened, on January 15 she was taken to Thanjavur Medical College, where doctors found that her liver had been badly damaged. She died on January 19.
The next day, P Muthuvel, district secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, posted a video of the girl in which she is seen saying that two years ago an administrator at her school asked her parents to convert to the Christianity, but they refused. A male voice is heard asking if her problems started since then and she says, “Maybe.”
Muthuvel had access to the girl, as she lay in a precarious condition in hospital, through her close relative. A police investigation would later discover that the video was shot at 10:30 a.m. on January 17, two days before his death.
The BJP intervened shortly after the girl’s death, demanding “justice for the girl”, with state president Annamalai calling the conversion a “poisonous, fast-growing plant” in Tamil Nadu. Even as police began investigating the case and arrested Sahaya Mary, the hostel manager – who was released on bail a week ago – the BJP has asked the parents to file a petition with Madras High Court, which requested that the investigation be transferred to the CBI.
Although the girl and her parents did not mention the conversion charge in their detailed statements to the police before her death, in the weeks that followed other elements emerged – the girl was allegedly tortured by her mother-in-law and she would have been overworked in school.
Talk to The Indian Express at home, Muruganandam, 44, the girl’s father, removed doubts about the veracity of the video shot by the VHP leader.
The girl was one of his three children from the first marriage. After his wife Kanimozhi died by suicide in 2013, he remarried and has a child from his second marriage.
His wife Saranya alleged that when they visited the girl at her hostel two years ago, a day before her Class 10 exams, Sahaya Mary tried to persuade them to let the girl join the convent. “She told us why not let our daughter join them (at the convent). She said why get married, have children and then take care of all the problems. She said our daughter could join them and live peacefully like them. My husband got angry and upset, so they soothed him before leaving the hostel,” she said.
“Now we realize that she was very upset after this incident,” Muruganandam said, adding that this was the last time the school and hostel would discuss the subject of the conversion. He also said he didn’t know if the school pressured her to convert.
In their statements to the police, the parents alleged that the girl was forced to do “extra work” at school and at home, which is also confirmed by the girl’s statement to the police and the magistrate. .
“They made him do all the work. She was very troubled,” Muruganandam said. “On Christmas morning last year, I went there to take her home, but they refused me permission. Later, she told us that they cooked her for everyone. people in the hostel during the Christmas holidays. They had also taken her to Trichy every month without our permission,” Saranya said.
In her recorded statement on the morning of January 16, the girl alleged that Sagaya Mary took her to an “office in Trichy” even after her mother objected. “She (Sahaya Mary) used to ask me and other students to clean the hostel, clean the floor from the grass, wash the premises etc. I couldn’t concentrate on my studies,” the girl said, adding that it contributed to “mental stress.” On the evening of January 9, she said, she consumed poison when she was “asked to do more and more work” and was also reprimanded.
A senior officer who was part of the investigation said: ‘We interviewed around 50 students and they all said this girl was the best of them all. Because she was brilliant, Sahaya Mary, the manager, relied on her to manage the inn’s account books and ration books. Monthly trips to Trichy were to the church office to submit accounts. The other students said that although they only had gardening work, the girl also had to take care of office work. But none of them have complained about attempts to convert – and the majority of students are Hindus.
The police investigation revealed another angle of the affair. In July 2020, a call was made by a close relative of the girl to the ChildLine service, alleging that the girl was being harassed by her stepmother. Following the call, officials from ChildLine had gone to the girl’s home to speak to the victim.
Muruganandam dismissed it as a groundless accusation. “My daughter was cooking rice and the pressure cooker exploded. The lid hit her in the face and she was injured, but they interpreted it as torture,” Muruganandam said, pointing to stains on the kitchen wall to prove his point.
While the school and church leadership declined to comment on the matter, Lourd Xavier, 48, a former Michealpatty panchayat president who is involved in church and school leadership activities , said the school had never had to deal with a conversion allegation before. Of the girl, he said, “Everyone loved her. She was efficient and good at studies. When she reached puberty, the Christian sisters held the rituals according to Hindu customs. She is said to have joined BSc Nursing next year and they had made all the arrangements for her. One of her teachers was also paying her fees. Xavier was one of half a dozen people, including a teacher and village elders, who visited the young daughter in hospital a day before her death.
“One of the teachers said to him, ‘You are such a good student… Why did you do that?’ Her eyes filled with tears. The teacher consoled her and told her that she should come back soon. She said, ‘No sir, I’m not coming back to school again,’” Xavier said, adding that the girl’s mother-in-law was at her bedside that day.
The girl’s parents have refuted Xavier’s claims that the sisters staged his coming-of-age rituals. “We organized an event at our house, where we invited around 500 people. Their claims are false,” Muruganandam said.
The parents also denied that any of the teachers had paid the girl’s fees. Received.