The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and Tamil Nadu government recently locked horns over an alleged forced conversion of Hindu students to Christianity at the hostel of a government-aided girls’ higher secondary school in Chennai.
On September 9, NCPCR Chairperson Priyank Kanoongo wrote to the state’s chief secretary V Irai Anbu and Director General of Police, C Sylendra Babu, asking them to initiate an inquiry and take necessary action against the CSI Monagan School girl’s hostel in Royapettah, Chennai.
‘No forced conversions’
Based on a report filed by the TN State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (TNSCPCR), Kanoongo, in her letter, said that the childcare institution was found to be unregistered and was lodging girls from poor family backgrounds who were then forced to follow Christianity.
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Revenue Department officials along with the police inspected the girl’s hostel inside the school premises and confirmed that the students were living in unhealthy conditions. But, they denied the allegations that the girls were forced to convert or follow Christianity. The state government filed the same as its report to the NCPCR.
It all started after the alleged suicide of a Class XII girl at a private school’s hostel in the state’s Kallakurichi district. The parents of the girl alleged that she was sexually harassed in the school premises and suspected a case of murder. In the protest seeking justice for the death of the girl, violence broke out at Kallakurichi, in which properties worth more than ₹1 crore were damaged.
Police arrested the school correspondent, principal and two teachers on charges of abetment to suicide. Later, all were released on bail after the autopsy reports confirmed that the girl died of suicide. After the horrific incident, the TNSCPCR, along with the Education Department, have been conducting joint inspections of residential schools in the state.
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Following one such inspection on September 6, TNSCPCR chairperson Saraswathi Rangaswamy, commission member J Sharanya, and Chennai Chief Education Officer S Mars alleged that the CSI Monagan School girl’s hostel was functioning without proper licence, and that the children were forced to follow Christianity.
In TNSCPCR’s inspection report, accessed by The Federal, a student in her written complaint has said that they are not allowed to smile, not allowed to wear earrings, anklets, and flowers in their hair. “Please help us,” one of the students had written in a letter that was enclosed in the TNSCPCR’s report.
“If this is not forced conversion, what is it?” asked Sharanya. She also alleged that she saw many sacks of the Bible placed in every corner of the hostel.
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“They don’t maintain the hostel, don’t provide them proper food, but have sacks and sacks of the Bible at every corner of the hostel,” she alleged.
However, when The Federal contacted Chennai Chief Education Officer Mars, who had accompanied the TNSCPCR members, he said that he was unaware of the forced conversions. “I did not speak to the students. Moreover, only four or five children were Hindus and the rest were all Christians. I don’t know from where this forced conversion matter cropped up,” he said.
Asked about the allegations of lack of response to distress calls from the girls and not rescuing them from the hostel, the Social Welfare Department’s Director S Valarmathi said that she had not received the TNSCPCR’s report at all.
“Neither in mail nor in person have I got the TNSCPCR’s report. Without even submitting the report to the state government, the state commission has sent the report to the National Commission,” she claimed.
Social Welfare Minister Geetha Jeevan too told The Federal that the recent inspection by the team headed by the joint director of the Social Welfare Department found no instance of forced religious conversions in the hostel. “A report has been prepared and sent to the NCPCR. The earlier report by the TNSCPCR was prepared with some vested interests and it was completely false,” alleged Geetha.