The three-member committee of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), probing the suicide case of M Lavanya, has sent its inquiry report to the chief secretary and DGP of Tamil Nadu government. The report stated that the team noticed several procedural lapses during the inquiry. It confirmed that there might exist a possibility of tampering with evidence in the absence of proper compliance with the due procedure of law.
The NCPCR report also accused the Tamil Nadu Police of not filing a complaint about the conversion angle, which was the cause of the suicide according to the family and was also mentioned in Lavanya’s dying declaration. The reports also accused the school of not letting Lavanya’s mother take the dead body of her daughter until they did not pay off the full school fee for the deceased victim.
Lavanya, who was studying in class 12 at Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School in Michaelpatti near Thanjavur, committed suicide by drinking pesticide after she was tortured to convert to Christianity by the school. Lavanya’s parents said that there was an attempt to forcefully convert their child and become a nun which the child had rejected and hence was subject to torture.
The NCPCR said in its report that the statutory body had taken cognisance of this incident after it received “3545 odd complaints for requests pertaining to initiate inquiry against the allegations in connection to this incident.”
“Looking into the gravity of the situation, and the lenient stand of the State Authorities in the present matter, regarding the death of a minor girl in Thanjavur, a team of three officials headed by Chairperson NCPCR Shri Priyank Kanoongo, Ms Madhulika Sharma, Advisor (Education), and Ms Katyayani Anand, Consultant (Legal) visited Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu on 30th and 31st of January 2022 for the purpose of conducting a thorough inquiry in the matter,” NCPCR said.
The NCPCR team headed by Chairperson Priyank Kanongo in the inquiry report mentioned that the team had interacted with the Superintendent of Police, Investigating Officer, Chief Education Officer, doctors who treated the minor girl and doctors who conducted the autopsy, grandparents and family from the maternal side (biological mother) of the minor girl, etc at the Railway Officers Rest House, Thanjavur to conduct a fair probe in the case.
During the inspection and investigation, NCPCR investigators observed a lot of discrepancies and shortcomings on the part of the school administration.
School authorities and police laxity in handling M Lavanya suicide case
The NCPCR inquiry report firstly pointed out how the NCPCR team found shortcomings in the school authorities’ initial actions to care for the minor girl after she had fallen ill. It further stated that when the NCPCR team reached Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School, Michaelepatt in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, where the class 12 student died of suicide, they discovered that there were no separate rooms or accommodations for the children’s stay.
The report further added that the hall where the deceased girl was staying had been cleaned and that essential objects such as furniture, books, clothes, and children’s belongings had been removed, leading to a possibility of evidence tampering, said the report.
Further, the team observed that the alleged crime scene was not sealed and cordoned for the purpose of the investigation by the local Police.
Looking at the current situation at the alleged crime scene, the NCPCR team came to the conclusion that there was a chance of evidence tampering in the lack of adequate legal procedure.
Implying police laxity in handling the suicide case of M Lavanya, the report further stated that during the interaction with the Investigating Officer (IO) and the Superintendent of Police (SP), the team was made aware that the warden of the boarding (the hall where children were kept), who had been named as a prime accused, had also not been taken to the crime scene to recreate the alleged incident and seizure of evidence.
The report added that the investigating officer also informed the NCPCR team that they did not seek the Police Remand of the warden who is one of the prime accused in the instantaneous matter. It added that the police have, to date, not identified the vendor or the source from which the alleged substance/poison/herbicide had been procured.
The NCPCR team further observed various anomalies in the statements made by the IO and the SP.
“The steps taken by the investigating authorities were observed to be not in line with the rules of procedure that should have been adopted in case of investigation into the death of a minor girl. This creates suspicion whether the investigating agency is doing a fair investigation or not”, read the report.
School authorities collected fees from the mother before M Lavanya could be taken for treatment: NCPCR
Further highlighting the apathy of the school authorities and the Tamil Nadu police pertaining to the M Lavanya suicide case, the NCPCR report stated that before the deceased girl was allowed to be taken for treatment to the other hospital, the school authorities collected fees from the mother. The Commission observed that no inquiry had taken place against this action of the school authorities for taking a fee from the mother of the deceased child.
Another scathing observation made by the NCPCR team probing the suicide case of a Class 12 student of Thanjavur was that the investigating authorities were somewhere trying to conceal material facts pertaining 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.
“It was observed by NCPCR that the authorities were trying to turn the incident into a story of the minor having an evil stepmother, and how that stepmother forced the deceased child to do household work. However, during the visit, through the interaction with the school and the police, the NCPCR was made aware of how the minor girl was made to do official work of the CCI by the warden like bookkeeping, accounting, store management etc and other work like cleaning the premises, washing toilets, opening the door etc,” read the report.
It added that authorities were attempting to conceal important details about the child while also ignoring the family’s pleas for an investigation into the minor being compelled to convert to Christianity.
Key violations of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 and its Rules of 2016, as well as a variety of other anomalies
The report further specified the legal bounding that the school authorities had not been adhering to. It said that the school was housing children without a valid registration under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, which is a mandatory requirement.
The report added that the minor girl despite having parents and family was illegally being kept in the CCI premises and was not produced before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) by the authorities, which is another compulsory requirement as per Section 37 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
“Therefore it was observed that due procedure with regard to institutionalisation of child was clearly not followed by the District Authorities. It was further observed that the deceased girl staying in the CCI was not produced before the CWC and was being kept illegally,” read the inquiry report.
It further stated that the crucial standards pertaining to the infrastructure and child care facilities, that ought to be followed by each CCI were found to be less than prescribed norms in this particular CCI which housed M Lavanya.
It NCPCR committee further observed that as mandated by the law, there was no exclusive officer- Special Juvenile Police Unit to exclusively deal with children either as victims or perpetrators, in accordance with Section 107 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
Recommendations made by NCPCR
The report mainly addressed recommendations to the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of the Police (DGP).
- 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.
- To provide necessary counselling, compensation and assistance to the parents and the brother of the deceased girl.
- To inquire how many such institutes are functioning under the 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.
- To shift all the children residing in the said CCI following due procedure immediately
To take disciplinary action against the District Police Officials for not following the due process of investigation and conducting a fair investigation.
NCPCR says Tamil Nadu govt not cooperating in probe of M Lavanya suicide case
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had sent a team to Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu to probe the suicide of M Lavanya. A press release issued by the NCPCR said that a team headed by Chairperson Priyank Kanongo would visit Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu to inquire into the suicidal death of the minor girl of the Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School, Michaelepatt, as the child rights body has received a complaint regarding the matter.
In a dying declaration recorded on video, the 7-year-old girl student had alleged that her school was pressurising her to convert to Christianity, and had tortured her for refusing to leave Hinduism. However, the police and the media had tried to cover up the conversion angle in the case and alleged that the girl killed herself because the school had asked her to do some regular chores.
Therefore, the NCPCR had decided to visit the spot between 30 and 31 January to ascertain the facts of the case. NCPCR also said that the Tamil Nadu government is not cooperating with it in the case, and therefore the commission will make all arrangements itself for the probe.