Kallakurichi: The body of a Class 12 student, whose suicide at a school in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi town sparked violent protests last week, underwent a second autopsy Tuesday — a development that comes a day after the police said that the student’s suicide note had blamed her chemistry and mathematics teachers for her decision.
While the two teachers, as well as the principal of the Shakti International ECR School, where the student was studying, have been arrested, the situation in Kallakurichi and neighbouring areas continued to be tense two days after angry protestors ransacked the school.
The 16-year-old student, who belonged to the Periyanesalur village in the neighbouring Cuddalore district, allegedly died last Tuesday close to the school hostel where she was staying.
Although school authorities claim she jumped to her death, her family, citing the first postmortem and her suicide note, accuse the management of foul play. The family claims that the first postmortem report — which ThePrint has accessed — indicated injury marks on her body.
After the first postmortem, the girl’s father had approached the Supreme Court Tuesday to get a doctor of his choice for a second autopsy ordered by the Madras High Court. The HC had allowed a second autopsy but turned down his request to have a doctor of his choice on the panel.
In his petition before the Supreme Court Tuesday morning, the girl’s father had asked for the second autopsy to be stayed until the court hears the petition.
The Tamil Nadu Police Tuesday announced a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the violence after the Madras HC’s orders. “The SIT shall unearth the entire conspiracy behind this incident, identify all the violators who are captured very well in the video footage, the person who formed WhatsApp groups and spread false news which resulted in rioting, and take action as per law,” Director General of Police, C. Sylendra Babu said Tuesday.
While details of the second autopsy are still awaited, officials from the Crime Branch – Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) pasted a notice outside the student’s house Tuesday evening in Periyanesalur asking her parents to collect her body for the final rites.
Several people, senior officers among them, were wounded in violence that erupted Sunday near Chinnasalem.
Fuelled by social media groups demanding justice for the student, enraged mobs torched school buses and vandalised its property, leading to prohibitory orders in the district till 31 July.
Despite contradicting claims, a teacher at the school told ThePrint that he believed it was a case of suicide.
“I remember her to be a calm girl,” said the teacher who said he had taught at the school for 15 years. “I know her mother came to talk to the chemistry teacher in early July to say that her daughter only gets average marks and asked for her help to motivate her daughter to do better. I know this since the chemistry teacher came and discussed this with the other teachers.”
“I think all the teacher would have done is ask her to do better. She would have said it only out of concern,” he said, adding, “The student may have been a sensitive girl”.
Amid mounting criticism from the opposition, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin in a social media post said: “The situation prevailing in Kallakurichi is regrettable. Those behind the girl’s death would be definitely punished after the completion of the police enquiry”.
‘Blood stains on the hostel veranda’
In his petition before the Madras HC, the girl’s father claimed that there were blood stains on the hostel veranda, 10 feet away from where school claims the girl had died. A “bloodied palm mark” on the wall indicated that “there was a struggle between her and somebody”, the petition said.
“My family was not allowed to see the hostel room, but there are blood stains on the hostel steps. I was not allowed to meet the roommates of the above said school,” the father said in his petition.
In a video that went viral on 14 July, the student’s mother is heard saying, “For a child who fell from the third floor, how are her limbs intact? We went to the school to see the spot where my child fell. There was not one drop of blood there!” In the video, she had also alleged that there had been “seven incidents” before this at the school that involved students.
Despite these claims, some students of the school told ThePrint that teachers at the school were “very kind” and that they hadn’t experienced “anything bad” at the school.
“My teachers are helpful and kind,” A batchmate of the girl who also lives in Periyanesalur told ThePrint, although he admitted that he did not know the specifics of the case. He also said that girls and boys are separated by section and do not sit together. “My mother enrolled me there since my two cousins went there before me.”
A political slugfest
The suicide and the violence that followed the student’s death have led to a political slugfest in the state, with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) interim general secretary Edappadi K. Palanisami calling the DMK government “lethargic”.
“It is due to the lethargic response of the government that violence broke out in the aftermath of the suicide,” he was quoted by news agency PTI. “The unrest could have been averted if some timely measures had been taken. It also exposes the shortcomings of the intelligence department.”
Among the 128 people arrested for rioting on Monday, two were members of AIADMK IT Wing.
“The arrest was not for rumour mongering or spreading fake news, it was for the cause of justice,” Singai G. Ramachandran, the head of AIADMK’s IT wing, told ThePrint, adding that the police were warning people not to post anything on social media. It’s a “curb on free speech”, he said.
“People behave differently when there are emotions. A mother is crying for her child and it has gone viral across Tamil Nadu, every mother’s blood will boil,” he said referring to the viral video of the mother, adding: “The protests happened naturally”.
‘Protestors bussed in from far away’
The town of Kallakurichi, which still wears the signs of Sunday’s violent protests, is now teeming with policemen, providing brisk business to all the lodges in town.
An owner of one of the lodges in town showed ThePrint a flyer shared on his Facebook network asking people to join the 17 July protest. The number listed on the flyer remains switched off.
“The police said some of the protestors were bussed in from faraway districts, such as Madurai (over 260 km away),” the owner said.
Some media reports have cited villagers who claim they were added to WhatsApp groups to mobilise people for the protests. The reports also spoke about how these WhatsApp messages and videos fuelled protestors in the days between the student’s death and the violence.
An elderly woman who lives on a farm behind the now heavily-guarded Shakti International school told ThePrint that as the school’s buses went up in flames, she heard people shout that a “cylinder had burst”.
“We found chairs, desks, and light fixtures from the school strewn about the farmland.”
When the violence broke out, she and her family had to move their tractors to the back of the farm, she said.
“We were very afraid for our lives and property,” she said. “Some of the men even tried to carry our goats and run away,” she said.
However, residents of neighbouring villages and those in Periyanesalur told The Print that they had nothing to do with the violence.
“Most of the people who showed up were young students bussed in from outside this area,” a villager in Chinnasalem told ThePrint.
“They say even the school’s alumni network was asked to show up,” a policeman at the school said.
On Monday evening, Periyanesalur was in a solemn mood as rain pelted down. Cops lounged about near the village’s main entrance, and some neighbours sat outside the family’s house. A banner with the student’s face and pictures of the blood stains at her hostel, hung at the entrance.
“You can go inside and have a look,” said an elderly villager, who claimed to have stopped by “to see the house”.
“It is really sad what happened to her,” she said
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)