Warden performed puberty rituals of TN teen as per Hindu customs: witnesses

Warden performed puberty rituals of TN teen as per Hindu customs: witnesses

The Sacred Heart Higher Secondary school authorities and the hostel warden sister Saghaya Mary, accused of forcibly trying to convert 17-year-old Lavanya to Christianity, in fact conducted the girl’s  “coming of age”  rituals as per Hindu customs, say witnesses.

Speaking to The Federal, Paulin, a neighbour of the Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School at Michaelpatti village in Thanjavur district, said, “Sister Saghaya Mary had no intention to convert Lavanya alone to Christianity when there were over 400 other Hindu students studying in the same school.

To be frank, when the 17-year-old girl started menstruating around three years ago, the sister called local Hindus to perform the ‘coming of age’ rituals as per Vedic rites. Had she wanted Lavanya to convert, she would have performed the rituals as per Christian practice or she could have just left without performing any ritual.”

The religious ritual, linked to a girl menstruating for the first time, is an intimate event usually conducted by the mother along with close relatives as per Hindu traditions. Such a ritual being conducted in the present instance suggests a closeness of the relationship between Saghaya Mary and Lavanya — far from any coercion attributed to the Sister.

Photographic evidence of the event is also possibly available of the ritual that was conducted by the Sister for Lavanya, going by what some villagers told The Federal reporter during his recent visit to the area.

Paulin, who is also an activist, said that she would frequent the hostel as she knows the children there and would check on their wellbeing and if they needed anything for their education.

“That’s how I visited the hostel on January 10 and found Lavanya vomiting. I thought it must be indigestion and asked Saghaya Mary sister to give her ginger and lemon juice. Sister Saghaya Mary advised her to go home and was about to call her parents. But Lavanya refused. When the sister went ahead and took the mobile, she snatched the phone back from the sister,” she said.

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Paulin also said that the school had not been giving any speeches or moral classes which might be Christian in nature. “It is because the majority of the students in the school as well as in the hostel belong to different faiths,” she said.

People in the village also confirmed that Sister Saghaya Mary called the local Hindu women to perform the coming of age rituals for Lavanya. “I know this because I saw people in the hostel asking the local Hindus how to perform the rituals. I did not see who went there to perform, but I was told the local Hindus performed the rituals inside the Christian school hostel,” David Balraj, a villager said.

Another resident Jayakumar who lives opposite the hostel, said he saw Lavanya coming out to get stationery. She always wore a ‘bindi’ on her forehead.  “I have seen her frequently with Saghaya sister, but I did not know that it was Lavanya. Only when I went to the hospital, I came to know it was the same girl I used to see daily. I have always seen her with bindi and bangles. If the hostel warden had wanted her to convert, why would she allow the girl to wear bindi and bangles,” Jayakumar asked.

“Besides the 400 Hindu students in the school, there were over 100 Hindu students at the hostel and everyone was like Lavanya. Had they wanted they could have tried to convert other children too. From whatever I have seen over the years, it is not the case.”

After the video clip in which Lavanya said that she “could be” troubled because she didn’t convert to Christianity, the School Education department conducted an inquiry. The five page inquiry report submitted by the Thanjavur District Education Officer to the school education department denied any religious conversion angle.

According to the report, since 2013 as many as 5,270 Hindu children have studied in the school as against 2,290 Christian and 179 Muslims. The report also said that the education department officers have conducted 16 periodical inspections since 2012 as in other schools and that they did not receive any complaints regarding forced conversion to Christianity.

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