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TN: BJP's ‘Forced Conversion’ Claims Busted on Alleged Suicide of 17-Year -Old Student

Neelambaran A |
In a new video, reportedly shot by a local VHP leader, the deceased girl has denied any attempt of forced conversion.
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Chennai: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) bid to communalise the alleged suicide of a 17-year-old student in Thanjavur has turned out to be cooked up story. In a video published on Thursday, the deceased girl has accused the hostel warden of making her do physical labour and carry out accounting related works. She has not spoken out anything about forced conversion. 

On January 21, one Muthuvel, a local leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), had released a 44 second video in which the girl was shown speaking about forced conversion. The BJP used this video to accuse the Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School management of converting students to Christianity. 

The video was reportedly an edited version, recorded on January 17, and was released two days later, after the girl succumbed to an alleged suicide attempt. Her phone has now been seized for forensic investigation with reports of three videos being recorded by the VHP leader.

The BJP social media units swung into action and made the video viral without hiding the identity of the student. The BJP and some other Right wing fringe groups tried to escalate communal tensions in the state, but the move has backfired, putting the party and its state president K Annamalai, former IPS officer, in a soup. 

Based on the dying declaration of the deceased girl, the hostel warden has been arrested by the Thanjavur district police. The girl hailed from Ariyalur , was staying in a hostel, died on January 19 after allegedly consuming poison.

BJP ‘FANNING’ TENSION

After the 17-year-old girl succumbed on January 19, a video with claims of forced conversion was made viral across social media platforms. A VHP leader shared the video, followed by the top leadership of BJP state and central units. The parents of the girl had lodged a complaint on January 15, following which a declaration was obtained from the student.

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As the BJP leadership called for stringent action against the ‘forced conversion’, the district police chief denied such charges, pointing to the declaration of the student made to the Magistrate in the presence of some officials. 

Initial reports pointed to the action of the hostel warden, Sagaya Mary, forcing the student to maintain accounts of the hostel and clean rooms, but the BJP leadership came up with a reportedly doctored video with claims of ‘forced conversion’. 

Soon protests erupted across the state seeking justice for the student. The BJP, Hindu Munnani and Indhu Makkal Katchi ,along with other fringe Rigth wing groups, swung into action and demanded action against the school.

On January 25, the BJP held a hunger strike in Chennai seeking compensation for the girl’s family and a government job. The BJP leaders who addressed the meeting accused the school of forcing  students to convert to Christianity and accused the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government of protecting the school management. 

The school, run by Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, denied allegations of attempts to convert students and said the management never intervened in the beliefs of students. 

The minister for school education also denied BJP allegations after a preliminary enquiry was held. Despite refusals from state government and education department, BJP went ahead with the narrative of conversion and pushed for a legislation to punish anti-conversion activities.

STORM IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA

Soon after the BJP leadership shared the video with claims of forced conversion, the social media wing of the party began their vicious campaign.  A discussion was initiated by the state BJP in the Club House app on the need for legislation to curb forced conversion. 

The BJP leadership also invited criticism for not hiding the identity of the minor girl in the video published. BJP state president K Annamalai, a former IPS officer, was accused of revealing the identity of the girl. While participating in a television debate he accused the DMK government of attempting to scuttle the probe.

Top BJP leadership, including Amit Malviya, the In-charge of BJP's National Information & Technology department and C T Ravi, National General Secretary, and many others joined the ‘forced conversion’ narrative. A hashtag campaign was activated by the BJP IT cell on the issue to seek attention and politicise the suicide incident.

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The video used by the BJP leadership recorded by Muthuvel was released only on January 19, after the girl passed away. 

‘NEVER ASKED TO REMOVE SINDOOR’

In the new video released which runs for almost four minutes, Muthuvel is seen questioning the girl on the issues she faced in the hostel. Savukku Shankar, an investigative journalist and political commentator,  accused the BJP and the state president of ‘escalating’ the suicide.

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Shankar, in a series of tweets observed that Annamalai could be booked for criminal conspiracy, conspiracy to create religious riot and suppression of evidence among others.

The girl had earlier sought help from the child helpline on abuses from her stepmother, which the BJP tried to hide all through the events. The incident could have less no relevance with the suicide of the girl though. 

Leaders of different political parties have accused the BJP of fabricating incidents for political gains. The Tamil Nadu finance minister PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan accused the BJP of stooping to new lows in Indian politics. 

Meanwhile, two people, including a minor belonging to the Hindu Munnani, were arrested in Coimbatore for damaging a statue in a church on the school campus. The statue was damaged on January 25, the day when BJP held a hunger strike in Chennai.

The BJP central leadership has formed a committee to enquire in to the incident of the suicide of the girl. Even after the release of the new video, the BJP leadership has not toned down their allegation on the school and Christianminority institutions. 

The national president of BJP mahila morcha, Vanathi Sreinvasan, an MLA from Coimbatpre, held a press meet in party national headquarters demanding a BI probe.

Attempts by BJP in Tamil Nadu to gain a foothold have not been making much headway for long, but the party is leaving no stone unturned to communalise incidents and incite tension, say political obervers.

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