A 17-Year-Old Student Died, Then Hundreds Stormed Her School and Set Buses on Fire

Police call it a possible suicide, while the school maintains it was an accident. The teenager’s parents accuse the school management of a cover-up.
Pallavi Pundir
Jakarta, ID
india, tamil nadu, death, teenager, student, school, investigation, protest, violence
The district of Kallakurichi in southern India is on high alert after hundreds of people barged into a school and set buses on fire. Photo for representational purpose. Photo: Arun Sankar / AFP

An Indian state is on the edge after hundreds of people stormed a school campus on Sunday and set buses and buildings on fire. 

This came after anger erupted over the death of a 17-year-old student in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on July 13 in the campus of Kaniyamoor Sakthi Matriculation School in Kallakurichi district. Police have attributed her mysterious death to suicide, based on a note found in her room that alleged torture by two teachers. They said the girl possibly jumped from the top floor of her hostel building. School authorities maintain that the girl’s death was an accident. 

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Her family, however, contested both claims and said she was sexually assaulted. They accused the school management of covering up her death

The girl’s parents have since led a blockade at the school as a protest, and tensions escalated on Sunday.

Videos circulating on social media, under the hashtag #JusticeForSrimathi, show people storming through police barriers to enter the campus, and setting fire to 15 school buses. People vandalised school property and went on to burn three police vans and other vehicles in the vicinity. On Monday, the national school association shut down all schools in the country as “protection” from similar violence. 

The Indian education system is estimated to be one of the largest in the world, according to UNICEF. But many Indian schools have been mired in controversy for crimes ranging from murders and rapes, to sexual harassment and abuse. In many cases, public outcry and protests have brought national attention to police inaction and alleged cover-ups by school management. 

Police in Tamil Nadu said more than 20 cops were injured during Sunday’s violence. The next day, around 120 people were brought to a local court for their involvement. In a media statement, police officials said that they anticipated only a small group of protesters. “We made arrangements but they collected a larger number of people,” C Sylendra Babu, director general of the Tamil Nadu police, told the media. 

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A ban on public gatherings has been imposed in the district until July 30. 

Citing an autopsy report, Babu said that “the girl appear[ed] to have died due to haemorrhage and shock due to multiple injuries.” The post-mortem is now pending a final chemical analysis of the internal organs, police said. However, the teen’s parents appealed to the high court for another post-mortem, according to Babu. 

So far, police have arrested three school officials including Ravikumar, the secretary, and the headmaster Sivasangaram. The state’s high court has now directed the government to identify those involved in the Sunday protests, and ordered another autopsy on the girl.

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