The Sunday Deep Dive

Pollachi sexual assault case | Of rape, lies and video leaks

An old farmhouse at Chinnappapalayam near Pollachi, the epicentre of Tamil Nadu’s most recent sex and abuse scandal, is deserted. It belongs to K. Thirunavukkarasu, 28, of Makkinampatti, a budding financier, and it was the main hangout of a group of youngsters from Pollachi.

The investigation by the Pollachi town east police of a complaint filed by a 19-year-old girl on February 24, 2019, revealed that the isolated house was more than a hangout. The next day’s arrest of Thirunavukkarasu’s friends N. Rishwanth, 26, alias Sabarirajan of MGR Nagar; N. Sathish, 30, of Suleeswaranpatti; and T. Vasanthakumar, 25, of Pakkothipalayam turned out to be the tip of the iceberg.

The girl’s complaint said Rishwanth called her up around 12.30 p.m. on February 12, 2019, when she was in college and asked her to come to the Unjavelampatti bus-stop to speak to her in person. Thirunavukkarasu and Rishwanth, whom she knew through a school friend and later got acquainted with, were waiting in front of a bakery as she reached Unjavelampatti at 1 p.m. Thirunavukkarasu drove the car on Dharapuram Road, while Rishwanth and she sat behind. Soon, two more persons boarded the car, whom she later identified as Sathish, who sat next to Thirunavukkarasu, and Vasanthakumar, who sat beside Rishwanth.

As the girl pressed Rishwanth about what he wanted to speak to her about, Thirunavukkarasu stopped the car on a mud road near the gate of a mill.

The complaint said Rishwanth forcibly removed her upper clothing and Sathish filmed it with his mobile phone. The men told her that they had the video of the incident and if she did not go with them whenever they summoned her, apart from giving them money when they asked for it, they would release the video. They held out the same threat while asking her not to disclose the incident to anyone.

The men then snatched her one sovereign gold chain before leaving her in the deserted area. She narrated the incident to two men who came to the place on a two-wheeler, and they arranged an autorickshaw for her to reach college, said the complaint.

The girl disclosed the ordeal to her parents on February 24, after Rishwanth, Vasanthakumar and Sathish met her two to three times and demanded money, her complaint said.

The four men were booked under Sections 354 A (sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), 354 B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 392 (punishment for robbery) of the IPC; Section 66 E (punishment for violation of privacy) of the Information Technology Act; and Section 4 (penalty for harassment of women) of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Woman (TNPHW) Act. The police could not trace Thirunavukkarasu then. In a twist to the case, a group of men allegedly assaulted the brother of the girl on February 26, reportedly to force him to withdraw his sister’s complaint. The same day the police arrested T. Senthil, 33, P. Babu, 27, and K. Vasanthakumar, 20, all natives of Pollachi, in connection with the assault. The police arrested ‘Bar’ Nagaraj, an office-bearer of the AIADMK’s Amma Peravai for ward 34 in Pollachi, the next day for his role in the assault. The party expelled him on March 11.

On March 5, the police arrested K. Thirunavukkarasu, accused of heading the gang.

The threads begin to unravel

A few videos of sexual assaults of women, which were allegedly shot in the farmhouse, were leaked. In these videos, girls were seen begging for mercy from the perpetrators. The case then snowballed into a scandal with reports speculating that the gang could have sexually assaulted and blackmailed several women.

Political parties, students’ federations, women’s forums and political organisations started a series of protests seeking justice for the victims and a fair investigation into the scandal.

Things got murkier when the then Coimbatore Rural Superintendent of Police, R. Pandiarajan, disclosed the name of the complainant at a press conference in March.

“The disclosure of the name of the complainant by the Superintendent of Police, who is supposed to protect her identity, was a major setback. This could have discouraged other women from coming forward with complaints against the accused. This thwarted a good start to the investigation,” says A. Radhika of the All India Democratic Women's Association, one of the organisations campaigning for justice.

With more pressure mounted on the police to unravel the various threads, the State government transferred the investigation from the Coimbatore Rural Police to the CB-CID, even as the political parties, including the DMK, wanted a CBI probe.

On March 25, 2019, R. Manivannan, 31, alias Mani, surrendered before the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court in Coimbatore for his role in the assault on the girl’s brother. The CB-CID later named Manivannan as the fifth accused in the sexual assault case and arrested him.

CBI takes over investigation

“Following the arrest of Manivannan and in pursuance of various leaked videos examined, the CB-CID altered the FIR and invoked Section 376 (punishment for rape) against the five accused,” said an official who was part of the investigation.

While the CB-CID investigation was under way, the Central government ordered a CBI investigation into the two cases, on a request from the Tamil Nadu Home Department, through a government order on March 16. Subsequently, the CBI’s Special Crime Branch, Chennai, re-registered two FIRs, copies of which are with The Hindu, in the sexual assault case and the case of assault on the girl’s brother on April 26.

The agency filed its first chargesheet against the five men in the sexual assault case on May 24, arraigning them for offences under Sections 354 A, 354 B, 376 and 392, read with 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), of the IPC: Sections 66E and 67 (punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the IT Act; and Section 4 of the TNPHW Act.

After pursuing the case of alleged assault on the girl’s brother, the CBI submitted a report before the Chief Judicial Magistrate court, seeking to close the investigation.

“The court did not accept the CBI’s report. As the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s post is vacant, we will submit a petition raising objection to the CBI’s report,” said S. Gopalakrishnan, counsel for the girl’s brother. “Though there was no visible progress in the case in 2020, the CBI has been doing its work, mainly to find out other victims and strengthen its case,” said a source privy to the investigation.

Meanwhile, the CBI obtained the court’s permission to collect the voice samples of the accused and subject them to a forensic analysis to ascertain whether their voices matched with those heard in some leaked video clips of sexual assaults. The groundwork of the agency yielded results when three more women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by the accused turned up to give their statements before a magistrate in December 2020.

The agency arrested AIADMK Pollachi town students’ wing secretary K. Arulanantham, 34, P. Babu alias ‘Bike’ Babu, 27, of Vadugapalayam, and Haron Paul, 29, of Achipatty, on January 5 this year. Babu was also involved in the case of assault on the brother of the first complainant. Even as the Opposition parties, led by the DMK, accused the government of protecting the accused, the AIADMK expelled Arulanantham from the party.

Political ramifications

With the Assembly election round the corner, the three arrests, especially that of Arulanantham, triggered a storm, with the Opposition parties circulating his photos with Ministers and top AIADMK leaders in social media. This is the second time the same case has stirred a storm and prompted questions of women’s safety in the State.

The AIADMK failed to retain the Pollachi Lok Sabha constituency, losing it to the DMK in the 2019 general election. Commentators put the defeat down to the impact of the case. With yet another election approaching and campaigning heating up, they reckon that the case may again impact the outcome in the region. “My government protects women like a bulwark,” Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami said at a campaign event near Pollachi on Saturday, responding to the charges levelled against the party. “The investigation and the trial should be conducted quickly. As demanded before, a detailed investigation should be conducted into the unnatural deaths and suicides of women in the Pollachi region. The quashing of the provisions of the Goondas Act invoked against the accused points to the government’s lethargic approach towards the case during the police and CB-CID investigation,” Ms. Radhika said.

Given the need for protection of the identity of the survivor and the witnesses and the political repercussions of the case, the Mahila Court in Coimbatore has kept the documents related to the case in its custody.

“We are happy with the progress of the inquiry. We hope the CBI will bring forth all those involved in the case,” the first complainant’s brother said, responding to the three recent arrests. CBI sources and a few officials who were earlier part of the investigation declined to comment.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 9:18:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/pollachi-sexual-assault-case-of-rape-lies-and-video-leaks/article33647285.ece

In This Package
Sitting on a powder keg of violations
Striking a fine energy balance
Raising a stink: Chennai’s conservancy woes
Of lives, limbs and the bull run
You are reading
Pollachi sexual assault case | Of rape, lies and video leaks
Back to school: doing things differently in a pandemic
Enterprise limited: An MSME memoir
Financial fraud | Usury travels online, thrives during pandemic
And, they all fall down
Coronavirus | Pandemic lessons from IIT-Madras
Chennai-Salem expressway project | Highway over troubled lands
Financial fraud | Dirty, rotten scoundrels of the modern world
Cyclone Nivar | How preparedness took the edge off the storm
Ennore-Pulicat wetland ecology has seen a steady decline due to thermal power plants and expanding ports.
Ecological hotspots under siege
Coronavirus | Tamil Nadu’s dilemma — To reopen schools or not
Protecting pachyderm pathways
Managing the monsoon
Tackling drought without data
Kollywood’s new custodians face complex challenges
When our saviours need to be saved
Manual scavenging: an indelible blot on urban life
Water sources aplenty, but Chennai still thirsty
One hydrocarbon project, many fault lines
Wanted: Public spaces
A total of 208 tonnes of oil sludge was collected manually and 99,000 litres of oil and water were collected through super suckers in the clean-up operations that concluded on Thursday
A slick on the shore and the murky aftermath
Job scheme, a mixed bag for rural labourers
With crops withering, whither delta farmer?
A movement to reclaim Tamil pride
The warp and weft of exploitation
Hope sprouts in the harsh agrarian landscape
Resettled: A story of struggle on the fringes
Two deadly Decembers: A tale of water and wind
Kollywood battles a faceless villain
Savvy pirates always one step ahead of the law
Invisible chains of bondage behind the brick wall
Next Story