The boundless powers conferred under Article 30 of our constitution towards minority educational institutions, like Sacred Heart higher secondary school at Michaelpatti, have unbridled autonomy to function with the State's fund for propagating Christianity which goes to limit enduring the students with constant psychological tortures, discriminations, and corporal punishments which ceases either if acceded to conversion or discontinuance from studies or accede to suicide; which in nutshell forms mechanism of Institutional Evangelism. The freedom to propagate religion with institutional autonomy guaranteed as fundamental rights for minority institutions has favoured Catholic Dioceses to encroach upon educational campuses through State Sponsorship via grants and aids to fuel conversion. Here, narrating the grave injustice met to a 17 year old girl – Lavanya by a Catholic Evangelical Institution in cabal with DMK Government in Tamil Nadu.
On 9th January 2022, Lavanya drank pesticide in the hostel run by the evangelical Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School in Michaelpatti, Tanjavur. Following on the complaint of severe stomach ache, the school authorities has called her parents and sent her to their custody upon receipt of pending fees then she was admitted at Thanjavur Govt Medical College and diagnosed of poison consumption on 15th January 2022. Very next day, a medico-legal case has been filed by the Thanjavur Police and dying declaration has been taken. To the dismay of dying Lavanya, her points of evangelical tortures by two nuns - Sagaya Mary and Raquel Mary were neglected during the dying declaration proceedings. So she attempted a video record which was published widely after her passing away on 19th January 2022.
In the dead bed, Lavanya elaborated (the video was recorded by Muthuvel) which in her own words translated to English from Tamil – “My name is Lavanya, and my father’s name is Muruganantham. One time before me, they asked my parents about converting their daughter to Christianity and then providing support for her education. They will always scold and desist from staying in other places. In between, Muthuvel intervened to ask who had told like that. Lavanya resumes saying it is the Nun Sister there; her name is Raquel Mary. In between, Muthuvel intervenes to ask when they ask. Lavanya replied about two years ago. Lastly, Muthuvel says that all tortures are meted out to you since you did not convert. Lavanya replies that it might be.”
Where the entire recordings in the dying declaration covered all torture angles like, translated to English from Tamil – “I…..studying since 8th Class studying in the school by lodging in the hostel. There, Nun Sister Sagaya Mary is the warden of the hostel. Only to me, she will force me to do account calculation of the hostel along with proper maintenance of Audit record. And she used to scold me very frequently. She never sent me home for holidays and always forced me to stay in the hostel. Whenever I asked to go home, she would convince me by saying that I could study properly if I stayed in the hostel. However, the studies have hugely piled up, and I start refusing to do such accounts and audit works; whenever I deny doing accounts and audit works. Also, I was never given proper food. That Sister always forced me to do accounts and audits, and such acts have forced me to commit suicide.”
Instead of cognizing reference of evangelical angle, Ariyalur Police at behest of Catholics backed DMK Govt has asserted the entire video as purported and denied to validate the video as dying declaration by causing an act of omission of this video. The Evidence Act defines Dying Declaration in section 32(1) as ‘Leterm Mortem.’ Instead the Thanjavur Police abused their police to witch hunt Muthuvel for recording the Lavanya’s video in his personal file. Meanwhile, the school authorities have whitewashed the entire crime scene to dilute the proofs required to prosecute the two nuns on evangelical torture met to Lavanya. Even State Education Minister of Tamil Nadu – Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi in a press interview as defended Sagaya Mary by rejecting forced conversion angle and defended the acts of Sagaya Mary as the Ordained Nun was the Guardian of Lavanya. National Commission on Protection of Child Rights after highlighting this angle also asserts on crucial aspects “the Investigating officer that till date she has not been able to identify the vendor /the source from which the alleged substance/poison/herbicide has been procured… During the inquiry, it was observed by the team that due process of law as well as procedure established by law has not been followed while conducting the investigation.” On this well planned nexus to impart injustice to the brave 17 year old martyr, evangelical driven DMK Government represented by their MLA - Inigo S. Irudayaraj, and presented with a shawl and garland to the accused two nuns who were given bailed by the lower court.
What ABVP Did?
At one side, DMK government’s planned negligence to dilute all aspects of Lavanya’s martyrdom to account the circumstances which coerced her to consume poison were whitewashed and truth being tampered fully. Whereas, on other side, DMK MLA welcoming the accused with garlands gives a clear picture of DMK-nexus with evangelical forces targeting schools and educational campuses. Condemning every planned efforts against Lavanya, ABVP stood with her to fight for right and the truth against the draconian DMK Government ABVP organized nationwide protest and submission of a memorandum to every District Collector from Kashmir to Kanyakumari addressed to Tamil Nadu’s Governor for transferring of this case to CBI on 23rd January 2022. . When the nationwide protest was ongoing led by ABVP, a state cabinet minister of Tamil Nadu holding portfolio of School Education - Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi on 24th January 2022 rejected evangelical coercion angle and defended the acts of Sagaya Mary as the Ordained Nun being the Guardian of Lavanya. With planned nexus, DMK Government was light on public prosecution which granted the accused Sagaya Mary a bill and on her bail released DMK MLA Inigo Irudhayaraj garlanded the accused nun on 13th February 2022.
On the very next day on 14th February 2022, a protest led by the then ABVP National General Secretary – Nidhi Tripathi, was held infront of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s residence on 14th February 2022 to condemn this act of his party MLA Inigo Irudhayaraj to welcome the accused Sagaya Mary. A huge crackdown followed against ABVP in Tamilnadu which followed by arrest of State Office Bearers also ABVP’s former National President, Dr Subbiah Shanmugam was illegally arrested without due grounds. But ABVP fought at the court of law against the evangelical forces backed DMK Government to release on bail the illegally arrested ABVP activist in Chennai and quash illegal case filed against the Former ABVP National President Dr Subbiah Shanmugam.
What is the ABVP’s Future Course
Though, the case is in CBI, and the innocent martyred Lavanya awaits for justice till today with every proofs being tampered and evidences destroyed carefully by evangelical forces in Tamilnadu. Still recounting all these facts to assure that the fight for Lavanya continues, with the future course:
ABVP insists on prompt action by the Tamil Nadu government against evangelical institutions, putting an end to religious propaganda and the coercion of minor students from diverse faiths, actions that contravene the principles of the Indian Constitution.
ABVP advocates for the Government of India to implement measures against academic institutions that endorse institutional evangelism.
ABVP urges the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the National Human Rights Commission (NCHR) to take decisive steps against harassment and forced conversions occurring within evangelical institutions, particularly in the context of Lavanya's suicide case.
ABVP calls upon the Tamil Nadu government to enact legislation addressing forced conversions, emphasizing the necessity for a Law Against Forceful Conversion.
(This article was written by A. Stalin, Research Scholar, JNU during the 2nd death anniversary of Lavanya (Jan2024))
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