Religious conversion row: HC orders CBI probe into suicide of schoolgirl in Thanjavur

The judge criticised the Thanjavur Superintendent of Police G Ravali Priya for issuing a press statement that the religious conversion angle was ruled out
Image used for representational purposes
Image used for representational purposes

MADURAI: Observing that the investigation into the death of a 17-year-old girl, who died by suicide in Thanjavur on January 19, is not proceeding on the right lines, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court on Monday ordered a CBI probe into the case.

Justice GR Swaminathan passed the order on a petition filed by the father of the deceased girl who alleged that the Class XII student at a Christian missionary school in Thanjavur was forced by the school authorities to do chores reportedly because she refused to undergo religious conversion.

The judge criticised the Thanjavur Superintendent of Police G Ravali Priya for issuing a press statement that the religious conversion angle was ruled out. By stating so, the SP had brushed aside the written complaint made by the petitioner and the video submitted by him in which the child spoke about the conversion bid, the judge said.

He also spoke about the practice of religious conversion and how common it is in India. Hence it is not highly improbable for it to happen in a place which has been named ‘Michaelpatti’ (the place where the school is situated), the judge opined and said the police ought to have conducted an investigation into the parents’ allegations, instead of outrightly rejecting it.

Moreover, shooting the video of the girl was not an offence by itself. Only its subsequent circulation on social media, without suppressing the identity of the child victim, contravened Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children), Act 2015, the judge further pointed out. He observed that the video was taken by the person Muthuvel only at the instance of the petitioner and the fact that only its truncated version was circulated on social media would not make it any less authentic.

Three dying declarations

The judge threw light on yet another aspect of the case. He pointed out that the case had been registered based on the information given by the deceased child to the police and said the information can also be taken as a dying declaration. Thus, there are three dying declarations in the case -- one given to police, one given to the judicial magistrate and one privately recorded by Muthuvel. “In this case, there is no contradiction between the police video and the private video. The private video contains extra material,” the judge said. He quoted the legal maxim that “the person who is going to meet the Maker shortly will not utter a lie”. Even a conviction can be based solely on a dying declaration if the court is able to scrutinise its veracity, he noted.

Materials leaked

Justice Swaminathan also considered the allegations made by the petitioner’s counsel that the police have deliberately leaked some of the materials which were in their exclusive possession, such as the dying declaration obtained by the judicial magistrate from the girl and certain portions of the video that exonerate the school authorities. A counter narrative is also being built that the child’s father and stepmother are responsible for the suicide, he noted. “Such deliberate leaks raise considerable doubts about the credibility and impartiality of the investigation made by the state police,” the judge observed.

Though the parents initially had faith in the state police and had only sought a CB-CID probe, due to the above reasons, they lost their faith and requested a CBI investigation into the girl’s death, the judge said. Further citing a statement made by School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi, ruling out the conversion angle and questioning the authenticity of the videos, the judge held, “Since a high-ranking Hon'ble Minister himself has taken such a stand, the investigation cannot continue with the state police.” He directed the Director of CBI, New Delhi, to assign an officer to take over the investigation from the state police.

Also observing that the continued incarceration of the hostel warden, Sister Saghayamary, who has been in jail since January 18, would not serve any purpose as the formal process of transfer of investigation may take time, the judge further directed the jurisdictional court to dispose of her bail petition based on available materials.

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The New Indian Express