Published: 07th October 2020
He was a creep, very manipulative: Students open up about Chennai preacher's predatory behaviour
While the Scripture Union issued a statement suspending Jaisundar, three other staff are also under enquiry for enabling predatory behaviour
Express spoke to at least five students over calls and messages. Many of them said Jaisundar was charming and popular, and also made many of them feel very uneasy.
They described his behaviour as manipulative and creepy. About two months ago, on a private chat of a school alumni group someone said, “Sam uncle was a creep.” Christina* now a third-year college student from Bangalore, said that what was spoken in hushed tones came out in the open after that.
Alumni of a school in Vellore that Jaisundar visited alleged that he and other members of the union made many students feel uncomfortable in person as well. Students are usually called to interact with the worship leaders in person after the union service, said Christina. “I was disinterested one particular day during that interaction. Sam noticed this, called me aside and said “You have a pretty smile. You should smile more often” and he winked at me,” she said.
When she told her friends that she was uncomfortable about it, they told her she was overthinking. “This happened five years ago when I was in the tenth standard and everyone thought he was a nice guy. So I let it go then,” she said.
While the Scripture Union issued a statement suspending Jaisundar, three other staff are also under enquiry for enabling predatory behaviour. He was posted as the secretary of the Scripture Union’s (SU) English section publications.
On Sunday, multiple alleged screenshots of Jaisundar’s conversations with minor girls were released on Twitter. In many, he asks the girls who are between the ages of 10-17 to share photos of themselves in short clothing, particularly skirts or frocks. Another alleged screenshot shows him asking a minor if she has kissed boys on the lips, hugged them and about her relationship status.
Jaisundar and his team regularly visited Christian missionary run schools across Tamil Nadu since 2006 and the organisation has done similar work for three decades now. Jaisundar also conducted a Vocational Bible School (VBS) and summer camps for Bible studies.
Another student, currently in Class 12 told Express that she reached out to Jaisundar one day as she was confused about her faith and religion. “He acted like I was traumatised. He held my hand and said it’s ok. I stood up and he hugged me. I felt squished like I was touched inappropriately,” she told Express.
She added that the next day, students took group pictures when Jaisundar allegedly slid his hands around her shoulders. “I was disgusted by it. He forced me to give my Whatsapp number repeatedly and I could not be rude after a point,” she said.
She opined that he had a way of building up the conversation before asking for pictures. “He would remember very personal details. He would give a series of compliments that were not shallow. He said I was smart, that my English was good and my smile was beautiful and then he asked for my pictures,” she said.
She said that she once sent him a picture “fully covered in clothes without a smile as a joke. He didn’t text me for a while after that.” Child protection experts call such behaviour as grooming a victim before committing an offence. Victims often feel complicit in the offence, preventing them from reporting or disclosing it.
On another occasion, she charged, that he asked for pictures of her school dance and said that he “cannot forget her Arabian dance.” Another student, through an email, told Express that the sessions conducted by Jaisundar and his team were, “cult-like.. including blatant homophobia, sexism, shaming of the #metoo movement... etc.”
She said that the children adored the team, especially Jaisundar. “We’d wait in anticipation for SU week and fight with all the other kids in school to meet him. He was funny, caring, and silly but understanding. We thought we could trust him. He took advantage of that,” she said. “At first, I was ecstatic. I took it as a sign that I was special. I was very happy to be receiving attention from this person who we all put on a pedestal,” she said elaborating that he commented on a picture she posted on social media wearing a dress.
“He responded to it saying “Wow, this is a very naughty picture.” Then he even took a screenshot of the post and sent it to me asking me about it. I got a little nervous, but I just responded with a ‘haha’ thinking I was over-thinking it. She told Express that she panicked and couldn’t tell her parents.
“I tried telling some friends at school, but due to the image he had carefully cultivated over the years, no one listened to or believed me. I was branded a liar, and attention-seeking,” she said adding that she felt guilty, "like it was her fault for posting a picture in a dress.”
"I deleted my account and got off social media for months after that. I was too scared and guilty to go online. I carried that guilt with me for years, until I grew up a little, and understood that it was not my fault.,” she said.