28 Jan 2022 1:45 PM GMT
In a petition filed for transfer of investigation pertaining to the suicide of a 17-year-old girl, the Madurai bench of Madras High Court on Friday reserved the orders after hearing parties at length.The petition, filed by the father of the deceased girl, originally sought for investigation by the CB-CID. Today, the petitioner's counsel made an oral plea for CBI investigation, expressing lack...
In a petition filed for transfer of investigation pertaining to the suicide of a 17-year-old girl, the Madurai bench of Madras High Court on Friday reserved the orders after hearing parties at length.
The petition, filed by the father of the deceased girl, originally sought for investigation by the CB-CID. Today, the petitioner's counsel made an oral plea for CBI investigation, expressing lack of confidence confidence with the state police.
The single-judge bench of Justice G.R Swaminathan also heard the counsel appearing for the intervenor School, Senior Advocate Fr. Xavier Arulraj.
At the outset, the Additional Public Prosecutor for the state informed the court that Muthuvel, who shot the video of the girl making statements, is not cooperating with the investigation. Though he handed over the mobile phone to the investigation agency on 25th January as per the court order, he has refused to throw light into the number of videos recorded and the recipients of video so recorded. The prosecutor also remarked in the beginning that the deceased had made a phone call to a helpline two years back due to the ill-treatment meted out to the child by her parents. The prosecutor submitted that 63 witnesses have been examined so far to ensure a comprehensive and fair investigation.
Before the counsel for the petitioner commenced their arguments, the court also agreed to hear the Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the School Management accused of attempting to convert the deceased girl child.
For The Petitioner
Advocate M. Karthikeya Venkitachalapathy, appearing for the petitioner, took the court through the timeline of events before making his arguments. He submitted that the girl child has repeatedly complained about the harassment by the hostel warden. According to the petitioner, she was assigned random tasks and forced to do other works including accounting which might have affected her studies.
Another aspect raised by the counsel was about the availability of a poison in the hall of hostel premises, within the reach of minor children.
He went on to note that the video recorded by Muthuvel, in the presence of the girl child's mother, must be construed as direct evidence and put to use by the investigating agency. He argued that the principle of res gestae would apply to the facts of the case and the veracity of the statements made by the girl child in the video cannot be questioned.
He also expressed the dissatisfaction of the petitioner about the alleged press statement given by the Superintendent of Police dismissing any angle of religious conversion in the FIR. Even the Education Minister disregarded the video evidence. The counsel also contended dahat the complaint was registered only after a mass agitation before the SP's office on 20th January.
Moving on, the counsel further stated that the dying declaration given to the Magistrate was publicised by unknown persons. He observed that there are only two possibilities. Since the dying declaration was in a sealed cover, it would not have been published from the court. The remaining possibility would be the investigating police deliberately leaking the dying declaration to News Channels and News Papers. This is quite contrary to the Supreme Court guidelines about the secrecy of dying declaration, the counsel added.
The petitioner also contended that a third video clip without any allegations about religious conversion, in addition to the two video clips already available in social media, was circulated. According to Venkitachalapathy, this was after the mobile phone was handed over to the Police by Muthuvel. The petitioner counsel alleged that this would have occurred only if the police officials are directly involved.
Citing all these instances, the petitoner counsel concluded that they have lost faith in the current investigation, and the facts and circumstances of the case warrants the transfer of investigation to CBI.
While concluding, the petitioner also drew the court's attention to the 2006 suicide case of a girl child called Sukanya. The petitioner pointed out that proper investigation which was conducted after intervention by social activists revealed that she was gang-raped and thrown into a well." It is the same party at the helm of the state then and now", commented the counsel. This was met with harsh criticism by the public prosecutor who stated that the case must be heard on merits and not on political statements.
For The State
Firstly, the Prosecutor requested the court to peruse the petition of the girl child's father. He pointed out that the petition contains only four paragraphs, out of which the third paragraph makes accusations about the press statement made by the police. The fourth paragraph seeks transfer of investigation.
Referring to the status report filed by the state, the prosecutor submitted that the girl was hospitalized first on January 9. It was only after the girl was admitted to Tanjavur Medical College hospital on January 15 that the fact about the girl consuming poison came to light. The parents of the child did not disclose this fact for about 5 days. Immediately after the posion consumption was known, FIR was registered and the girl's statement was recorded. One person was arrested and remanded.
The FIR registered then did not contain any mention about attempts made by the school management for religious conversion. When the petitioner has not made specific averments, unless they opt to write it down in an affidavit, the prosecution need not reply to the baseless allegations made, added the prosecutor.
"When the victim girl complained, FIR was registered immediately and a person (nun) was arrested the next day. We did not wait. Now they are disrupting the investigation, They dont want the investigation to continue in a fair manner", the prosecutor submitted.
The prosecutor also raised suspicions about the petitioner not releasing the video till the death of the girl child despite their submission that the conversion video was recorded on 17th January. The prosecutor also remarked that the petitioner was trying to politicise the issue even though the statements of the victim parents were recorded thrice by the police.
The Prosecutor asserted that the police was exploring all angles and assured the bench that investigation was in the right track.
For The Intervenor School Management
The senior counsel appearing for the school management informed the court that he has sent a confidential affidavit via mail which mentions about the medical difficulties that the girl child were facing, along with the problems at her own home.
"I don't want to traverse through the same in my arguments since it pertains to the status of the girl and her family, and the psychological depression that ensued... I don't want to spill it out in the public domain."
Senior Counsel Arulraj also added that the school was deeply saddened by the demise of one of their brightest students who lived with them for the past five years.
" We were her second home", the counsel remarked about the girl child's affinity to the school which has been accused of attempting to convert her.
The counsel added that they had no objections to the 24th January Order made by the court.
" We are not shying away from investigation. We are ready to face the investigation either by the Police or the CB-CID. The transfer of investigation to CB CID does not concern us... Our only grievance is that certain allegations have been made by the petitioner that has detrimentally affected the institutional front and those associated with it...We don't do conversion in our institutions. That's not our mission.", he added.
He underscored that the intervenor was a minority institution imparting secular education for students hailing from all religions for the past 160 years.
"We have taught over a million students in this time span. Majority of our students are Hindus.. We don't discriminate on the basis of religion...The death of the girl child was a shock to all of us...it has now been politicised as a conversion debate", he submitted before the High Court.
Arulraj (for school) : We started the first school in 1730. 300 years back. It was the first school where all castes could come for education. Now they are throwing some mud on the institution.#MadrasHighCourt #TanjavurGirlSuicide— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) January 28, 2022
Arulraj (for school) : We started the first school in 1730. 300 years back. It was the first school where all castes could come for education. Now they are throwing some mud on the institution.#MadrasHighCourt #TanjavurGirlSuicide
He submitted that the management has several schools and colleges in the State and majority of the students are Hindus. There have been no complaints of conversion in the school's history.
The counsel also added that the allegation of the petitioner about an attempt to forcibly convert dates back to 2019. If they were aggrieved, they could have raised a complaint then or taken the girl child home. He also contended that the video was a fabricated piece of evidence.
"We have been protecting the girl for five years. We know her in and out. Most of her statements were against her stepmother ill-treating her...The girl was keener to stay back at the hostel rather than going home even during the lockdown....It is clear that the petitioner lacks credibility and this has been nothing but an attempt to camouflage the ill-treatment at home by throwing the bogey of the conversion attempt at the School."
The counsel also submitted that the petitioner cannot resort to forum shopping for keeping the real culprit safe. He reasoned that it is the prerogative of the state government to decide the investigation agency unless and until there is a procedural impropriety, an error of law or proven bias.
"Muthuvel, the person who has allegedly taken the video, has three criminal cases registered against him including deliberate attacks against Christians.He is the President of some political outfit. I just wanted to draw the court's attention to the criminal antecedents of this person."
He went on to state that the girl child was in an aggravated medical condition (details of which have been elaborated in the confidential affidavit) when she came back to the Hostel after the lockdown ended. This should be read along with the Prosecution's submission that a helpline call was made by her two years back complaining about parents ill-treating her, he submitted.
"The status report that the Prosecution has filed includes an elaborate timeline. I am not defending the Prosecutuion. In fact, they have harassed us too. After the court order, they have impleaded another sister who was warden years ago...And now it is known that BJP has constituted a fact-finding team to probe into the matter. All of these have been driving us to a point where everyone has been throwing stones at us...All hell broke loose with the deviation of the petitioner from the dying declaration of the girl child... We will abide by the court directions no matter what", the counsel added to indicate that the story of the conversion has been a concocted one.
"There are no skeletons in our cupboard. Our house is clean...We are on a media trial; every priest and every nun is viewed with suspicion now by the general public. If there has been conversion; action may be taken against us. But this must not be based on the complaint of the petitioners who has been alleged of mistreating the girl child", he concluded.
On the last occasion, the Madurai bench of Madras High Court had ordered the forensic analysis of the viral video in which the deceased had allegedly spoken about the forced attempts of the school authorities to convert her to Christianity.
In a special sitting on last Saturday, the court had directed the police not to interfere while the family performs the final rites of the child as per their customs. Since there has been no doubt as to the credibility of postmortem conducted by doctors from Thanjavur Medical College, the bench asked the District Collector to make necessary arrangements to transfer the body to the deceased child's native place.
Pertinently, the court also gave a strict mandate to the police not to harass the person who filmed the video of the girl child. Instead, the court asked the officers to focus on the circumstances that led to her suicide.
The deceased, a 12th Standard student in Thooya Irudhaya Higher Secondary School at Thirukattupalli, was staying at the School Hostel when the incident occured. Allegedly, she consumed poison (pesticide) inside the hostel premises on 9th January. The police took her statement on 16th January, based on which, the hostel warden was booked for offences under Sections 305, 511 of IPC and Sections 75 and 82(1) of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
Advocate M.Karthikeya Venkitachalapathy appeared for the petitioners and T.Senthil Kumar, Additional Public Prosecutor appeared on behalf of the Respondents.
Case Title: Muruganantham v. The Director-General of Police & Ors.
Case No: CRL OP(MD) No.1344 of 2022
Find the Live Updates From Court Hearing Here:
Madras High Court reserves order on the petition filed seeking proper investigation into the suicide of Tanjavur Girl.Justice GR Swaminathan heard the arguments of petitioner(father of child), Prosecution & the School.Follow this thread for hearing updates. https://t.co/83cdqd8TAc— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) January 28, 2022
Madras High Court reserves order on the petition filed seeking proper investigation into the suicide of Tanjavur Girl.Justice GR Swaminathan heard the arguments of petitioner(father of child), Prosecution & the School.Follow this thread for hearing updates. https://t.co/83cdqd8TAc