On January 19, a 17-year old girl died after consuming an insecticide in a suicide attempt in Thanjavur, a district in the Tamil Nadu state of India. According to local news outlets, Lavanya, a grade 12 student at Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School, committed suicide due to an alleged forced conversion to Christianity.
Lavanya was a Hindu student in a school run by Catholic nuns. Lavanya was taken to Thanjavur Medical College Hospital on January 9, where she stopped responding to medications and died ten days later.
An unverified video showed Lavanya claiming she was abused and forced to clean all the St Michael's Girls' Home in Thanjavur. She was also forced to do other laborious tasks by herself.
Lavanya said she and her parents were asked to have her converted to Christianity in the video. "They said they will take care of my education," she added.
The video, recorded two years ago, resurfaced after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president in Tamil Nadu shared it via Twitter. K. Annamalai shared the video with the caption, "Conversion–a poisonous plant is spreading fast in Tamil Nadu." The issue took on a very political angle with the involvement of the BJP.
The BJP is putting pressure on the government to investigate and arrest those responsible for the girl's suicide. The BJP is demanding a CBI inquiry. The group also held a protest on January 23 and demanded that Ravali Priya Gandhapuneni, the Thanjavur police superintended, resign from his post. Gandhapuneni claimed that the girl did not complain about any attempted forced conversion.
Khushbu Sundar, a BJP's national executive committee, said Gandhapuneni was lying. "This is a white lie, and the Gandhapuneni has to be dismissed," he said. Sundar also alleged that multiple politicians are not addressing the concern to avoid losing votes.
Peter Alphonse, a congress leader and commissioner of the minority commission of Tamir Nadu, dismissed the BJP's claim. Alphonse said that 70% of the school's student population is Hindu, while only 25% are Christians. "Will conversion that has not happened in three centuries take place now?" he said.