The grandmother of a Class XII student who committed suicide at her boarding school in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, last month alleged to the The Federal that the teenager had previously suffered physical abuse at the hands of her stepmother.
Lavanya’s suicide has proved to be a political flashpoint in the state, with the Sangh Parivar claiming that pressure to convert to Christianity was the reason Lavanya committed suicide. Earlier this week, the Madras High Court ordered a CBI investigation into the case.
Lavanya had burn marks on her cheeks and palms when she saw her a couple of years ago, the grandmother, Angaiyarkarasi, alleged
This reporter visited the teenager’s village, Vadugarpettai in Ariyalur District, to meet the grandmother. “I kept hearing from people in the village that my grandchildren were being tortured and physically assaulted by their stepmother,” Angaiyarkarasi claimed.
“I thought it was hearsay, I did not believe it at the same time. One day, during the first lockdown in 2020, I was told that Lavanya was branded with something hot and when I enquired, I came to know that her stepmother Sharanya had lit camphor on her palms alleging that she had stolen something,” she said.
Angaiyarkarasi said there were burn injuries on Lavanya’s cheeks and palms when she happened to meet her on the streets of the village.
“I didn’t know what to do, I studied only till Class V. I shared the information with my elder sister, Nithyananda Saraswathi, who was headmistress of a government school here. She did not say anything, but she managed to file a complaint around two years ago when my granddaughter was being branded by her stepmother on her hand and cheeks and all,” Angaiyarkarasi recalled.
Angaiyarkarasi daughter Kanimozhi [Lavanya’s mother] was married to Muruganandham around 17 years ago, when Kanimozhi was just 16 years old. After giving birth to a daughter and two sons, Kanimozhi committed suicide around eight years ago, when Lavanya was nine and the brothers were seven and five.
“Soon Muruganandham got married again. We were shocked. We were worried about our three grandchildren and we asked Muruganandham to register the land, given to him as dowry, in the name of our grandchildren. He did not agree and my husband had to fight to get it done,” Angaiyarkarasi said.
According to Angaiyarkarasi, Muruganandham and Sharanya soon cut the grandparents off from their grandchildren.
“Even after Muruganandham married Sharanya and she came into the village to live with him, I was talking to my grandchildren. But the grandchildren were continuously physically beaten up by their stepmother for talking to me and visiting my house. So I chose to stop talking to them and I stopped going by their street. I didn’t want my grandchildren to get beaten up because of me,” she said.
Angaiyarkarasi was one of the witnesses in the case when it was being investigated by the state police.
“After Lavanya died, the police twice came to my house and asked me if I know anything about the torture. Since I have to live in the same village and since Muruganandham is a relative, I said I did not know anything. But the police have already collected all these details and I couldn’t hide and I told them everything that I know. I did not lie about anything and I don’t have to be scared,” Angaiyarkarasi said.
She also recalled how Lavanya wanted to shield her brothers from Sharanya.
“When she was admitted to the hospital, me, my husband and my younger son went to see her. She did not speak much but she was asking me if I could get anything for her to eat. I got her milk. When her uncle asked her why she did so, she did not respond and asked my son to take care of her two brothers,” Angaiyarkarasi recalled.
She said her three grandchildren were not in the village until the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect. “Lavanya was left in a boarding school and two other grandsons were left in their aunt’s house in neighbouring villages. When Lavanya was here during the lockdown, she spoke to me when we were fetching water there. I couldn’t recognise her, but she recognised me. But, even for that, she was beaten up by Sharanya,” she claimed.
Sharanya refused to comment.
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