A magisterial inquiry has begun into the alleged sexual assault of four Irula tribal women by policemen.

The incident reportedly occurred in the jurisdiction of the Thirukkoilur police station on November 22.

Thirukkoilur Judicial Magistrate K.Muralidhara Kannan went to the tribal habitation at T.Mandapam on Sunday to enquire with the four women.

The Magistrate continued the probe on Monday. Highly placed sources told The Hindu that earlier the inquiry into sexual assault cases was conducted by either a Revenue Divisional Officer or a Deputy Collector or a Sub-Collector.

Since the rules have now been changed magistrates are authorised to probe such incidents.

After a representation was handed over to Superintendent of Police M.Bhaskaran a First Information Report (FIR) was filed in the Thirukkoilur police station on various counts, including under the provision of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against “unidentified policemen.” Later, it was referred to the Judicial Magistrate, Thirukkoilur, to conduct the probe.

Meanwhile, the victims have gone on record stating that the police have forced them to give a written statement that no such incident took place and that their version was videographed. Human rights organisations have voiced a strong protest against police action forcing the affected women to take back their complaint. P.V.Ramesh, a coordinator of the Pazhangudi Irular Padhukappu Iyakkam, who has taken up their cause, said after the complaint was lodged the women were taken to Villupuram and kept in custody of the police top brass for a night.

They were also told that if they subjected themselves to a medical test it would not only bring disrepute to them but would also affect their families. Therefore, the police made the women to retract their complaint under duress on the promise of getting them jobs and releasing their kin.

When contacted the SP told The Hindu that the investigation was conducted by a woman Inspector and the tribal women were treated well.

The police records revealed that the tribal men were involved in housebreaking cases in the Collectorate and in a doctor's house and even tampered with a temple hundial.