'Forced Conversion' case: Madras High Court reserves order after hearing arguments of victim, school's counsel

Written By: Sidharth MP WION
Chennai Updated: Jan 28, 2022, 07:26 PM(IST)

File photo: Madras High Court. Photograph:( DNA )

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Representing the government, the prosecutor informed the court that the cops were investigating all angles and that over 50 witnesses had been questioned

The hearing of the Thanjavur alleged 'Forced Conversion' case in the Madras High court witnessed fierce arguments being put forth by the petitioner's counsel (victim's parents' lawyer) and the counsel of the concerned school, where the victim had studied. 
Hearing both sides and the prosecution (government counsel), Justice GR Swaminathan reserved his order, without specifying a date.

This case was originally filed by the victim's parents, who sought a CB-CID probe in the matter and raised questions about the integrity of the police investigation, into their minor daughter's suicide. 

Representing the government, the prosecutor informed the court that the cops were investigating all angles and that over 50 witnesses had been questioned. 

It was also added that Muthuvel, the individual who shot the girl's 'dying declaration' video was not cooperating with the probe.
The counsel for the girl's parents made a slew of points that needed to be investigated. 

Some of them included how the victim managed to obtain poison in the children's hostel, the need for her 'dying declaration' video shot by a third party to be taken as direct evidence. 

The manner in which the cops ruled out the religious conversion angle at an initial stage was pointed out. 

In addition to this, the Education Minister terming the act of shooting the dying declaration video 'wrong' was also mentioned.

Referring to the cause of suicide as a continuous process and the alleged attempt to forcibly convert the girl to Christianity, around two years ago, the Counsel said that confidential details of the probe, including new videos, were being leaked out after the phone, where it was recorded, was handed over to the cops. 

A similar case of Sukanya, a student in a missionary-run institution, who ended her life in 2006 under mysterious circumstances and how it turned out to be a case of gang rape, was also brought up. 

Quoting the victim's parents, the prosecutor said that the dying declaration video was shot on January 17 and that the parents raised this issue only after the daughter's death, on January 19. 

Also read | Examine victim’s video that mentions ‘forced-conversion’, Court tells Tamil Nadu Govt in student suicide case 

Stating that the victim's parents' statements were recorded thrice, the prosecutor said that their further allegations could be filed as an affidavit. 

The school's counsel informed the court of having shared a confidential affidavit with the judge. This was done to protect the privacy of the family. 

The allegations of conversion were also denied, adding that they were in the field of education for many years and that there were no complaints so far. 

Allegations were also made against the girl receiving stepmotherly treatment at her home and questions were raised over why the family kept quiet over the conversion allegations for two years. 

The school's counsel alleged that the said 'dying declaration' video was tailored and doctored.

It was also stated that the girl was more attached to the school than her home and that she generally did not go home on short vacations. Allegations were also made about the victim not being on good terms with her stepmother. 

The school's counsel also alleged that the victim was under depression and care was being provided by the school. 

The case pertains to a 17-year old girl from a poor background, who studied in a Christian Missionary school in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district. According to the police, the victim had consumed poisonous material on January 9 and had succumbed ten days later. 

In an unverified video, she is seen saying, “In front of me also they asked my parents about converting me to Christianity so that she would make me study. She would also keep scolding me and not let me stay there”. When asked who she was referring to, the victim is heard saying, “Sister Rachel Mary."

When asked if she was tortured because she refused to convert to Christianity, the victim is heard saying “it could be possible”.

As per the Legal Rights Protection Forum’s (LRPF) complaint to India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the victim’s school had been illegally converting children into Christianity and was imposing corporal punishments on those who resisted. 

It added that this was causing mental agony to students and driving them to extreme steps.

“The victim was forced to convert to Christianity and when she refused the same, she was refused permission to return home from the hostel. She was made to clean toilets and wash dishes,” read the complaint. 

It also adds that the child tried to end her life due to the atrocities inflicted upon her. 

Last week, the bereaved parents approached the Madras High Court, seeking a CB-CID probe in this matter. 

Earlier this week, the Madras High court had ordered that the phone in which these videos were recorded was to be submitted for forensic examination. 

It was also added that the individual who shot these videos had to appear before the investigators. 

While the court had asked for the authenticity of the video to be ascertained, it had also stated that the cops must not harass the person who shot it.

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