The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has prepared its inquiry report in the matter of suicide of the 17-year-old girl at the hostel of Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School at Michaelpatti in Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu.
In January this year, the Madras High Court had ordered transfer of investigation into the case from the state police to the CBI. The Court had cited various reasons, including that the high ranking ministers of the state had taken a stand supporting the school, prejudging the police investigation.
The Supreme Court had refused to interfere with the direction of the High Court to transfer the investigation to the CBI.
The NCPCR had sought a report from the Tamil Nadu Police about the issue. However, the Police did not furnish any report to the NCPCR and it had decided that its team will visit Tamil Nadu to inquire about the incident.
Later, NCPCR had issued a press release stating that the state authorities are not cooperating with its inquiry.
Now, in its report pursuant to the inquiry, the NCPCR has recorded damning findings.
School insisted on fees before treatment
The NCPCR report states that before the deceased girl was allowed to be taken for the treatment to a hospital, the school authorities collected fee from the mother of the girl. When the girl reported sick after consuming poison, the school authorities availed services of a local nurse. When the girl did not respond to the care of the nurse, the school authorities informed the parents of the girl to come and take her.
When the parents arrived to take the girl to a hospital, the school authorities insisted on payment of the school fee before taking the child. The NCPCR notes that the delay on the part of the school authorities in giving proper care to the girl indicates malicious intention to conceal the real reasons behind the girl's death.
The Commission also observes that no inquiry had taken place against this action of the school authorities for taking fee from the mother of the deceased child.
The girl was made to do tasks like washing toilets
The NCPCR has recorded in its report that the minor victim was made to clean the premises, wash toilets, open the door etc. in addition to works like bookkeeping, accounting, store management etc.
The report states that "It was observed that the investigating authorities were somewhere trying to conceal material facts pertaining to the care given to the child while she was staying in the CCI and also ignored all the pleadings made by the family to investigate regarding the minor being forced to convert into Christianity".
Attempt to destroy evidence
The report states that when the team visited the school premises where the girl was residing, it found that "..the Hall in which the deceased girl was staying had been cleaned off and necessary items like furniture, book, clothes, belongings of children etc were not there."
It notes that the alleged crime scene was not sealed and cordoned for the purpose of the investigation by the local Police.
"The team of NCPCR looking at the present scenario of the alleged crime scene, observed that there might exist a possibility of tampering of evidences in the absence of proper compliance of due procedure of law", the report states.
Authorities tried to create a narrative about 'evil stepmother'
The report of NCPCR notes that the authorities were trying to turn the incident into a story of a minor having an evil stepmother, who forced the child to do household work.
The same finding has also been recorded in the judgment of Justice G. R. Swaminathan as follows:-
"But a counter narrative is being built as if the father and the step mother of the child are responsible for the suicide. In the 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 step mother. Such deliberate leaks dent the credibility of the investigation."
School violated many provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act
The report of the NCPCR notes various violations of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 by the school.
NCPCR states in the report that the boarding facility of the school were the child was residing was registered as a Children Home in the year 2016 under the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 but the said registration was sought to be withdrawn by the institution in the year 2017. Therafter, an applicatoin was made for registration of the institution under the Tamil Nadu Hostel and Homes for Women and Children (Regulation), Act 2014, which was not allowed.
NCPCR also states that the "minor girl despite having parents and family was illegally being kept in the CCI premises and was not produced before the CWC by the authorities. Therefore it was observed that due procedure with regard to institutionalisation of child was clearly not followed by the District Authorities".
The report also lists out the shortcomings in the physical infrastructure at the place where the children were residing.
Recommendations of NCPCR
The report makes the following recommendations to the Chief Secretary of the State as well as to the Director General of Police
For Chief Secretary:
"a. To take action against the district authorities who had failed to take action as per JJ Act, 2015 despite the school housing children without a valid registration.
b. To provide necessary counselling, compensation and assistance to the parents and the brother of the deceased girl.
c. To inquire that how many such institutes are functioning under Tamil Nadu Hostel and Homes for Women and Children (Regulation) Act 2014 and Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 and provide a list of the same to NCPCR.
d. To shift all the children residing in the said CCI following due procedure immediately".
For Director General of Police
"To take disciplinary action against the District Police Officials for not following the due process of investigation and conducting a fair investigation."