The suicide of a girl student from Thanjavur has led to widespread protests by the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Tamil Nadu (TN) state unit. The BJP, along with the girl's parents, have been alleging that the student took the extreme step, because the school management forced her to convert to Christianity.
While the state police has been denying the claim, TN's Catholic church too has refuted the allegations, issuing a statement on behalf of the college management. On Thursday, 27 January, a video of the girl, taken before her demise, has surfaced. In the clip the student is heard refuting questions on forced conversions.
Here is a timeline of events that have unfurled so far in the case, revealing the other side of the BJP's protest against 'conversion'.
Attempted Suicide, FIR and Statement to Police
9 January: The 17-year-old girl who was studying in a boarding house in Michaelpatti, Thanjavur, attempted suicide by drinking Agrosone, a pesticide.
10 January: The girl’s father, who hails from Ariyalur, transferred the student to Tanjore Medical College Hospital.
15 January: The parents approached the police with a complaint and an FIR was registered. As per the First Information Report (FIR), the girl was forced to do domestic chores in her hostel. She reportedly "got fed up of it."
On the same day, the police recorded the girl's statement.
"The boarding school warden used to take me out when she had to run her personal errands. She made me clean the floor and pull out weeds. I couldn’t focus on my studies at all," the girl's statement in the FIR read.
Dying Declaration, New Video Clip and BJP
16 January: At 4.10 PM, a judicial magistrate recorded the student's declaration on video. In the video, the student accused the hostel warden of making her do physical labour. She also gave a statement to the child welfare committee, on the same day. No mention of forced conversion was made in either of these statements.
19 January: The girl died due to medical complications and the video recorded before the judicial magistrate was considered to be her dying declaration.
20 January: Based on the complaint, the police arrested the 62-year-old warden, Sagayamary, under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Juvenile Justice Act.
21 January: A 44-second-long video clip of the girl surfaced on social media. In the clip, the girl was heard accusing the hostel warden of asking her parents to allow her to convert. BJP State President K Annamalai shared the video on Twitter and it went viral in a few hours.
The student's mother, spoke to media persons, "Earlier, when I had gone to pick her up, the school authorities had told me that I should allow them to convert her to Christianity so that they can take care of her education. I fought with them. So they don't like me.”
The Thanjavur police said the video was submitted 24 hours after the girl's death.
VHP and Madras High Court
21 January: Based on the directions of Madras High Court Judge GR Swaminathan, the girl’s father and stepmother gave their statements to the judicial magistrate. They informed that the person who took the video, in which the conversion allegation arose, was P Muthuvel, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) Ariyalur district secretary.
22 January: The girl's father complained to the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court that the Thanjavur police was pressuring them in the case. "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,” the High Court said.
The court disallowed a second post-mortem of the deceased's body.
BJP's Twitter Campaign, Congress-DMK Leaders Respond
23 January: A hashtag demanding justice for the girl began trending on Twitter. BJP state chief K Annamalai said that the Tamil Nadu police is “losing its hard earned reputation by its irresponsible statements.” BJP's National Executive Committee Member Khushbu Sundar has been supporting the campaign to sack Thanjavur SP.
Congress leader and Commissioner of TN’s Minority Commission S Peter Alphonse took to Twitter to dismiss the allegations.
“Of the approximately 1,000 students currently studying (in the same school), 70 percent are Hindus, five percent are Muslims and 25 percent are Christians,” he wrote. “Hindu teachers also work. Will conversion that has not happened in three centuries take place now? Tamil Nadu will not allow hate politics which is full of social unity and religious harmony!"
24 January: The parents requested for transfer of the investigation to the Crime Branch (CB-CID). The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court directed the person who filmed the video to hand over the mobile phone to the police.
Muthuvel told media persons that he had recorded the statement on 17 January as the parents of the deceased girl wanted the same. Tamil Nadu School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi promised "impartial action" against those responsible for the girl's death.
He appealed to political parties like BJP not to "politicise the issue" and promised an "unbiased probe." Chief Education Officer (CEO) of Thanjavur district had spoken to students and alumni of the school and the issue of forced conversion had not come up during the investigation.
DMDK, Kamal Haasan Enter the Scene
25 January: Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founder C Vijayakant said that the police should probe the conversion allegations. Makkal Needhi Maiam President and actor Kamal Haasan called for a fair probe and pointed out that there's a rise in such incidents in Tamil Nadu. Teacehrs of government and government-aided schools treat the students from lower-middle class backgrounds as their servants, Haasan said.
Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) President K S Alagiri accused the state BJP president of politicising the issue. Meanwhile, BJP leader K Annamalai said that a fact-finding panel comprising members of the BJP’s women’s wing has begun an independent inquiry.
School Management Clarifies, New Video of Girl Surfaces
26 January: The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation that runs the school, where the girl had studied, denied the charge of religious conversion. The superior general said the child had been studying in the school since when she in class eighth. “She wanted to stay with us, even on vacation, without going home. Thus she grew up to be the child of all of us. That’s why she got 489/500 marks in 10th class,” the statement read.
27 January: A new video surfaced in which the girl is heard speaking at length about how she was coerced to do chores in the hostel. A person is heard asking, “Did they prohibit you from wearing a bindi at school?” The girl responds in the negative.
Tamil Nadu Finance Minister P Thiaga Rajan took to Twitter to strongly condemn the BJP.
“Even by the prevailing loose standards of Indian politics, if facts are verified, this marks a new low in TN. What kind of person tries to create communal tensions FABRICATING a 100 percent false narrative around the tragic case of a troubled teen?,” read the tweet.
BJP National President JP Nadda constituted a four-member committee to visit Thanjavur and investigate the student's suicide. The members of the committee include Sandhya Ray from Madhya Pradesh, Vijayashanti from Telangana, Chitra Wagh from Maharashtra and Geetha Vivekananda from Karnataka.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)