Tamil Nadu, nun arrested on (false) charges of inciting suicide and conversion
By Nirmala Carvalho
62-year-old Sister Sahaya Mary, in charge of a student hostel linked to the Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School in Michaelpatti, was arrested. Behind the arrest was the death by poisoning of a 17-year-old student. Social media have amplified and distorted the story. The young girl had lost her mother eight years ago and was the victim of harassment by her stepmother, a BJP supporter.
Delhi (AsiaNews) – Indian authorities have arrested a nun in charge of a hostel on charges of forced conversion, which culminated in the suicide of a minor student at the Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School in Michaelpatti, a village in the Thanjavur district (Kumbakonam diocese, Tamil Nadu).
The 17-year-old girl was a guest at the centre, whose management falls under the school administration. She poisoned herself in her room on 9 January last, dying after 10 days, despite attempts at treatment.
Because of the death, investigators detained 62-year-old Sister Sahaya Mary and charged her under sections 305 of the criminal code (aiding and abetting suicide of a minor), 511, 75 and 82 paragraph 1.
However, in the First Information Report drawn up by police officers who managed to speak with the victim before her death, there is no mention of her attempt to convert, a story that was allegedly circulated by local Hindu radical elements in order to stir up anger.
The nun belongs to the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose headquarters are in Pondicherry. The young woman took the poison on 9 January, but concealed the act and was hospitalised for continuous vomiting. The police registered the complaint on January 16, three days before her death on January 19. The officers arrested the nun, who lived in the compound and suffers from pronounced deafness among other things.
The police also committed a blatant irregularity by revealing the victim’s name [which we prefer to keep secret because she is a minor], which began to circulate in the media and on social networks. The girl did not want to return home because of the harassment suffered by her stepmother, a strong supporter of the BJP (the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, in power since 2014). In a moment of deep distress, she decided to poison herself in her room.
From a private affair, the story has become viral on social media and on the Internet, taking on a political drift with exploitation on several fronts, including the (unfounded) accusation of forced conversion.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Francis Anthonysamy, Bishop of Kumbakonam, expressed “great sorrow for the tragic death” of the girl, hoping that “justice will be done” for the nun who is currently in custody. Fr John Zacharias, legal representative of the diocese of Thanjavur, speaks of “false and prefabricated accusations” based on conversion attempts that never took place, because “she had only given hospitality” to a girl in difficulty. But the truth is emerging because “there is no proof whatsoever” of the minor’s attempt at forced conversion.
Santhanam SJ, a Jesuit lawyer with the National Lawyers Forum of Religious and Priests, recalls that “the victim lost her mother eight years ago” and her father “married another woman” who “harassed” the girl. For this reason, he concludes, “the young girl chose to stay with the nuns, even during the lockdown for Covid she did not want to go home for fear of being abused by her stepmother”.