ThePrint Essential — our new product in which we make sense of the big, complex developments of the day and what could happen next. When there is so much news, and everybody in the media covers it the same way, using the same jargon, focusing on the marginal and skirting the essential, you need The PrintEssential. They are quick notes from ThePrint’s domain specialists, who bring the what, where, why and how of the issues and debates of the day.
Bengaluru: The Tamil Nadu government Wednesday transferred the Pollachi serial sexual assault case and a related assault case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after the state DGP T.K. Rajendran proposed the handover on the grounds that the case required detailed investigation involving technical expertise.
The case has shocked the state and the country due to the nature of the sexual exploitation and unverified reports on the number of victims. The case has also rattled the ruling AIADMK, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, as at least one of its members (since expelled) was allegedly involved while there are allegations that the accused received political patronage.
What is the Pollachi case? How did it come to light?
While the case has dominated headlines in the state and the country of late, the FIR was registered on 24 February. It was based on a complaint filed by a survivor whose ordeal had begun on 12 February.
In her complaint, the survivor recollects that she received a call from one Sabarirajan, alias Riswandh, whom she knew. Sabarirajan called her over for lunch at Unjavelampatti area of Pollachi but when she got there, he allegedly asked her to accompany him in a car. The survivor has alleged that the three other accused — Thirunavukkarasu, Vasanthakumar and Satish — were already in the car.
Her account states that she trusted Sabarirajan and entered the car but the men drove her to a secluded place near Kalpana mills in Pollachi, where Satish forcibly removed her clothes while the other three filmed the act. They allegedly threatened her, extorted her and ordered her to submit to their “desires”, which she flatly refused. At this time, they snatched her gold chain and abandoned her, before driving off.
The accused then allegedly called the woman over the next few days demanding money by blackmailing that they would release the video. Unable to bear the torture, the survivor finally informed her parents who helped her file a police complaint.
Soon after the complaint was filed, the survivor’s brother is said to have tracked down the accused and assaulted them. He also allegedly found more such videos in the phones of Sabarirajan and Thirunavakkarasu. The phones were handed over to police as evidence.
The brother, however, was later attacked by an unknown gang that police suspect could have been the accused. This is the second assault case that has been transferred to the CBI.
No clarity of number of victims
The case opened a can of worms as investigations found that the four accused had been sexually exploiting and blackmailing a number of women over the last few years. There is, however, no clarity on the number of victims, with local media pegging the figure at anywhere between 20 to 200.
The accused allegedly shot several hundreds of videos of the women they lured and later subjected to physical and mental torture. According to police, their modus operandi involved befriending the women through Facebook and then luring them to secluded areas.
Many of the victims were young college going students, homemakers and sometimes working single women who would befriend them on social media for companionship.
Police officials who are part of the investigation told The Print that the accused would indulge in sexual acts and would keep the doors open so that the other associates could watch and shoot the entire act.
The four accused — Sabarirajan, Thirunavukkarasu, Sathish and Vasanthkumar — have now been booked under sections 354A (sexual harassment), 354B (assault or use of criminal force against woman with intent to disrobe), and 394 (robbery) of the IPC; section 66E of the IT Act (violation of privacy); and section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Women Act (sexual harassment).
All of them have been arrested.
Another reason that the case has shocked the state is that a number of videos have been circulating on social media, some of which clearly show the faces of the accused. One of the videos, released by a Tamil portal, depicts one victim pleading with the four men as they attempt to disrobe her.
On 4 March, one of the main accused, Thirunavukkarasu, circulated a video on social media claiming his innocence and alleging that potentially influential people were involved in the case.
“There is a lot of details about important party men in those videos and photos,” he is heard saying. “I am going to tell a big truth. I need the support of the leader of opposition party, media friends, advocate and the judge.”
The Pollachi Police arrested him on 5 March.
How did ruling AIADMK get dragged into the row?
The ruling AIADMK got embroiled in the controversy as the survivor’s brother identified one “Bar” Nagaraj, a local AIADMK party worker, as one of those who threatened him. While the party expelled Nagaraj Monday, it has given the opposition ammunition against the government.
The opposition has alleged that the rot goes all the way to the top and that close associates of Tamil Nadu Deputy Speaker Pollachi V. Jayaraman are also involved. Jayaraman denied these allegations while speaking to the media in Chennai and said that he had spoken with senior police officials in Pollachi and urged them to take action against the accused.
In an attempt to soothe rising emotions, the AIADMK’s Pollachi MP, C. Mahendran, landed at the police station and demanded action to be taken against the accused.
“Please don’t play politics with this issue. It is our children who are affected,” he told the media in Pollachi. “The perpetrators belong to various political parties, don’t believe the rumours that they belong to one party alone, they have affiliations to other parties as well.”
What’s the political fallout?
The case has left the ruling AIADMK red-faced. Since the case has erupted, there have been protests in Chennai, Coimbatore, Pollachi and Tiruvannamalai.
The opposition leader, the DMK’s Kanimozhi, speaking at a rally in Pollachi Tuesday, alleged that police was under pressure from the state government and had been underplaying the case.
“Why is the police trying to protect the accused, who are they protecting?” she asked. “They are underplaying the whole issue and have shown arrests of only four men. What about the others involved?”
Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiyam and TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMA Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam have sought strict punishment for the accused.
While DMK chief M.K. Stalin said that the leaked video of the helpless survivor crying was unbearable to watch, MDMK leader Vaiko called it “blood-curdling.”