The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has ordered a CBI probe into the suicide of a minor girl, allegedly due to torture on account of resisting pressure by school authorities to convert to Christianity.
The Father of the girl had moved the Madras High Court seeking transfer of the investigation to C.B.C.I.D or any other independent investigating agency under the DGP of police. During the final hearing, the Petitioner Father had sought an enquiry by the CBI.
Advocate M.Karthikeya Venkatachalapathy appeared for the Petitioner, T.Senthil Kumar, Additional Public Prosecutor for the Respondent Nos. 1 to 4 and Senior Advocate Dr.Fr.Xavier Arulraj, appeared for intervenors Amala Irudhaya Mary and Menitto.
Justice G. R. Swaminathan notes in the judgment that Superintendent of Police Ravali Priya, I.P.S. held a press conference about the case and asserted that in the preliminary enquiry, the conversion angle was not made out.
The Court holds that, "Such a statement was unwarranted because by then the private video was already in circulation and the parents of the child have given a complaint alleging that there was an attempt to convert the child to Christianity. By stating that the conversion angle stood ruled out, the Superintendent of Police had brushed aside the petitioner's complaint made in writing and backed by the video of the child".
The Court notes that the father was therefore justified in entertaining an impression that if the investigation continued by the District Police, it will be biased.
"I fail to understand as to why the Thanjavur Superintendent of Police reacted as if she had come in contact with a live electric wire. After all an allegation has been made that there was an attempt to convert. The school in question is run by a Congregation. The Holy Bible says "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28: 19-20). In Mark 16 : 14-18, Jesus says "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned". This is called in Christian theological terms as the Great Commission. In the literary review published in the Hindu Magazine issue dated 30.01.2022, Sudipta Datta talks about Maria Aurora Couto's "Goa : A Daughter's Story". Couto establishes the links which the Goan society developed in response to conversion, christianisation and colonisation. She explains how in spite of being divided along religious lines by Portuguese colonial policies, Goan society retained communal harmony, thanks to a strong sense of community.", the Court notes.
Court also discusses the name of the city Michealpatti where the School is situated.
"More than anything else, the place where the school is situated is known as Michealpatti. Obviously it could not have been the original name. There is an interesting discussion as to how the various areas in Chennai acquired their respective names in V.Sriram's "Chennai". Someone can undertake a similar exercise for Michealpatti also. Therefore, there is nothing inherently improbable in the allegation that there was an attempt at conversion. It could be true or false. The matter called for investigation and not outright rejection. But the District Superintendent instead directing the jurisdictional police to conduct investigation chose to proclaim that the preliminary investigation has ruled out the conversion angle. If she had before her only three materials, namely, First Information Report, police video and the dying declaration, she would have been justified in stating that till then, the religious angle had not come out. But the truth of the matter is that she had before her two more materials, namely, the private video and the parents' petition. Instead of ordering the investigation officer to take the additional materials to account, the S.P directed the local police to register an FIR against the person who had taken the video", the Judgment states.
The Court holds that registration of FIR for offences such as 153, 504, 505(1)(b) and 505(2) of I.P.C also indicates that the Superintendent of Police wanted to silence any discussion regarding the conversion angle. The Court notes that her conduct during the press conference synchronises with the registration of Crime.
The Court holds that the person who shot the video did not commit any offence as such. It was only the subsequent sharing on social media without suppressing the identity of the child victim which attracts the offence.
The Court notes that the Education Minister of the state and two other high ranking Ministers have also expressed opinions against the case of the parents, during the pendency of the case. "The Education Department has also come out with a statement exonerating the school management of the charge of conversion", the Court notes.
The Court also notes that in social media, an allegation has been made that the CHILDLINE received complaints some two years ago that the child in question was being cruelly treated by the stepmother. The Court states that such deliberate leaks dent the credibility of the investigation. Court also notes that the statement of the girl to the police or the dying declaration recorded by the Judicial Magistrate does not contain allegations against the stepmother.
Court holds that "The attempt of the police appears to be to derail the investigation".
"This Court has a duty to render posthumous justice to the child. The foregoing circumstances cumulatively taken will definitely create an impression that the investigation is not proceeding on the right lines. Since a high ranking Hon'ble Minister himself has taken a stand, investigation cannot continue with the State Police", the Court holds while directing the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi to assign an officer to take over the investigation from the State Police.
The 17-year-old girl died on 19th January in hospital after she consumed poison on the 9th January at the hostel of Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School at Michaelpatti in Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu.
In a special sitting held on 22nd January, the Court had directed the Tamil Nadu Police not to harass the person who took the video of the deceased child.
Thereafter, the Court had also passed a series of directions on the 24th, while recording the statement of the investigating officer that the video is authentic and the statement of the parents of the child that there was indeed an attempt by the school authorities to convert the girl.