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A thirteen-year-old Form Two student Vasanthapriya committed suicide recently after being accused of theft. Strangely, even before her family has had time to mourn her passing, the scalpels are out to do her in.

Psychological trauma

Based on what has been reported, she was accused of stealing her teacher’s mobile phone, detained and interrogated for five hours, hit by one of her teachers and finally driven home to face her parents.

Vasantha insisted both to her teachers and to her parents that she did not steal the phone ( it has still not been recovered).

Apparently, psychologically traumatized by the whole incident, she went to her room and hung herself later that day.

A police investigation is now underway; hopefully it will shed some light on what transpired and whether anyone should be held responsible for her death.

Character assassination

In the meantime, a video has surfaced purportedly showing Vasantha using the stolen phone. A national daily quickly concluded that she was a thief. The police later clarified that the video recording was too grainy to be conclusive.

More insidiously, someone went to great lengths to uncover the fact that Vasantha had attempted suicide two years ago.

The Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan himself reportedly confirmed that Vasantha cut her wrists in 2016 and that the family did not proceed with the counsellor’s suggestion to get her further medical help.

It is outrageous that the Education Ministry should wash its hands off the case this way, make her out to be mentally unstable and shift the blame for her death to her family.

How dare the Ministry release her medical records in such a callous manner!

Did Vasantha have no rights?

What we should be asking instead is why the teacher concerned saw fit to personally interrogate a thirteen-year-old student without her parents being present? Why was there a need for five teachers to gang up, intimidate and threaten a child? Was it even legal for them to do so? And did they follow proper procedure?

Adults being interrogated by police have a right to legal counsel; do children deserve any less respect?

Whatever it is, Vasantha’s parents as well as the public at large need to know that a fair and independent enquiry will be conducted and if any laws and procedures were not observed that those responsible will be held to account.

Too many investigations have gone nowhere; it must not happen this time.

Just a child

Whatever the facts of the case, she was still only a child, and a sensitive and fragile one at that; she didn’t deserve for her life to end this way.

To the world, she might be just a name but she had a life and a family. She had hopes and dreams and fears too. She brought joy and laughter to her family and friends. And she was one of us.

Lets not take that away from her or let negative and hurtful stories define who she was and how she lived.

Is it too much to ask that we stop to mourn the loss of this precious child and give her family the time they need to grieve for her?

Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 13th February 2018