TN VHP leader, who led protests over Lavanya suicide, held for trying to extort money from Catholic priest

Police said Muthuvel plotted to extort ₹25 lakh from the priest by threatening to spread fake news that he was molesting children.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Mar 15, 2023 | 3:30 PMUpdatedMar 15, 2023 | 3:30 PM

Lavanya suicide Tamil Nadu VHP leader Muthuvel

“An idea can change your life,” Muthuvel, the Aiyalur district secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Tamil Nadu, learned the hard way.

Muthuvel (40) is now cooling his heels behind bars after a leaked audio clip reportedly exposed his idea to extort money from a Christian priest.

The alleged idea was to falsely accuse Fr Dominic Savio, the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Ariyalur, of molesting Hindu students. Fr Savio is also the Correspondent of RC High School.

The police said Muthuvel plotted to extort ₹25 lakh from the priest by threatening to tarnish his image in public.

In January 2022, Muthuvel reportedly leaked the videos of a 17-year-old girl, Lavanya, who died by suicide, alleging that she had been under pressure to convert to Christianity.

Charges against Muthuvel

The VHP leader, Muthuvel, is now facing charges under Sections 153 (provoking someone to cause rioting), 153(A) (committing an offence in a place of worship), 298 (deliberately hurting religious feelings), and 388 (extortion by threat of accusation of an offence) of the Indian Penal Code.

The police have also slapped him with IPC Sections 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 505(1) (B) (intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public), and 505 (1) (C) (intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community).

He was presented in court and remanded in judicial custody for 15 days.

Also read: BJP Bihar unit peddled fake news, says BJP TN vice-president 

A shortcut to easy money

Muthuvel’s downfall came after an audio clip with a runtime of 1 minute and 34 seconds reached the public domain.

The audio was a conversation purportedly between Muthuvel and an Ariyalur resident, Vinod. The VHP leader was reportedly heard persuading Vinod to threaten the priest with posters on Lavanya and to demand ₹25 lakh to spare him.

Muthuvel reportedly promised ₹5 lakh of the pelf to Vinod, besides providing posters and flex banners denouncing schools run by missionaries. It was also heard that he would arrange for a statewide protest.

“If you speak things perfectly, we can extort money from the priest. He has a lot of money … We can have a share (sic),” he was heard saying in the audio clip.

“Let’s print posters like “take action against the priest who molests Hindu girls in Ariyalur school”. “Beware… Be alert Hindu people… Do not admit your kids in these schools…(sic),” the audio played the conversation.

“When we print posters and publicise (them) all Christian schools like Montfort and Nirmala schools will get affected and it will be a hot topic statewide,” the audio further revealed of the conversation.

The Muthuvel effect

Lavanya, a Class 12 student of Sacred Hearts School in Michaelpatti village died on 19 January, 2022, 10 days after she had consumed a herbicide.

K Annamalai

BJP Tamil Nadu state president K Annamalai

Days after the girl’s death, Muthuvel released four videos that purportedly showed the girl speaking before her death.

In the first video, the girl shared her basic personal details. In the second, she spoke about her schooling. No mention was made about religious conversion.

In the third video, which went viral and was shared by the BJP state unit president K Annamalai, the girl alleged that she was asked to convert a couple of years ago by a teacher, a nun.

The girl’s stepmother raised allegations against the school authorities in the fourth video.

According to sources, Muthuvel approached the girl’s stepmother in the guise of offering help and shot the videos. The phone on which the videos were recorded was later handed over to investigators.

Also read: How media, BJP leaders peddled misinformation, fake videos

Teen’s death and political fallout

After Lavanya’s death, BJP leaders, including state president Annamalai, shared the videos and made them viral on social media.

They called for a protest against the school run by the Catholic Church.

Hashtags #JusticeforLavanya, and #NationwithLavanya trended on social media, and several national media houses debated the issue. The BJP spokesperson, attending the debates, termed it a death due to an attempt to forcefully convert the girl.

Nidhi Tripathi, the national general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of the BJP, even led a protest in front of Chief Minister MK Stalin’s residence in Chennai.

The ABVP also announced month-long tribute marches across the country seeking “Justice for Lavanya”. The BJP and its affiliated organisations held a candlelight vigil throughout the country.

BJP president JP Nadda.

BJP president JP Nadda. (South First)

On 27 January, 2022, BJP national president JP Nadda constituted a four-member fact-finding team.

The members, Sandhya Ray, an MP from Bhind, Madhya Pradesh, Vijaya Shanthi from Telangana, Chitra Wagh, Mahila Morcha president of Maharashtra, and Geetha Vivekananda, were told to submit a report at the earliest.

The team visited Lavanya’s stepmother and their party members in Thanjavur. However, none of the members visited the girl’s school or spoke to the investigators. Nothing was heard of the report the team was told to submit.

Additionally, Annamalai led a hunger strike at Valluvar Kottam in Chennai, condemning the Tamil Nadu government.

The protests over the teen’s death tossed the quaint, rice and sugarcane-growing Ariyalur village into the vortex of a political whirlpool.

Interestingly, the BJP views VHP leader Muthuvel’s arrest as a ploy to divert attention from the Lavanya murder case.

“The DMK government’s image has been tarnished in Lavanya’s case. The police have now arrested Muthuvel in a planted case to divert attention and regain the lost image,” senior BJP leader H Raja told South First.

Also read: Madras High Court rejects BJP UP spokesperson’s bail plea

BJP stands exposed, says DMK

DMK’s state deputy secretary (Media relations), Dr SAS Hafeezullah said the BJP has been trying to create communal unrest in Tamil Nadu.

“We were saying from day one that the BJP is trying to politicise the death and is trying to create a law and order situation. The intention of the communal forces is now clear,” he told South First.

VCK demands probe against Annamalai

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) spokesperson Vanni Arasu told South First that the intention of the BJP and the right-wing has been exposed.

“BJP had three agendas in the death of Lavanya: One, to portray her death was due to an attempted forceful religious conversion, which is not true. Two, to extract money by issuing threats and to keep the missionary-run schools under its control, and the third is to disturb the communal harmony for political gains,” he said.

Arasu further stated the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has not reported even a single complaint of forceful conversion of children during the past seven years in Tamil Nadu.

“The intention of the right-wing is now revealed. BJP president Annamalai is the one who spearheaded the protest and spread the video clips. So Annamalai and other BJP leaders should be probed in this issue and the conspiracy behind this should be revealed,” he demanded.

When contacted, Lavanya’s family refused to comment.