Tamil Nadu

Twin horrors rock Tamil Nadu

For this 22-year-old woman in Virudhunagar, down south, fate has been very cruel. She had lost her father, and was under her mother’s care. The woman, who hails from a Scheduled Caste, had been shouldering the family’s burden, working at a private mill.

It was then that she developed friendship with M. Hariharan, who used to meet her at the bus stop where she would wait for the company vehicle to pick her up. While she enjoyed his company initially, she had no idea that this association would trigger the horror story that was about to toss her life about.

She continued to chat with him on social media, and at some point, friendship evolved into love. They had consensual sexual relations; however, unbeknown to her, he shot a video of their intimate moments on his mobile phone.

She only found out about the video when she urged him to marry her. He refused. When her family insisted on getting her married, she consented to a proposal, and he started harassing her. He reportedly forced her into sex, blackmailing her with the video and warning her that if she did not comply he would release the video online. Though she did comply repeatedly out of fear, he circulated the clip to his friends.

As the clip started moving, each of his friends started to threaten the poor girl that they would upload it on social media, if she refused to have sex with them.

As the events came to light, people were shocked to discover that the participants of this sordid drama included four schoolboys. “When a Plus-Two student was playing an online game with Hariharan’s mobile phone, he chanced upon the clip and he grew curious,” said a police officer privy to the investigation. He roped in some of his friends. As the investigation stands, even a Class IX student is involved in this scandal.

What started in August 2021 as a fallout of a love affair turned into sexual torture for her for nearly one year. When she realised that she had got into an ugly mess and decided that she could not tolerate the harassment anymore, she sought the help of one of her neighbours. Though she trusted him, she was yet to face one more betrayal.

After transferring the clip to his mobile phone, the neighbour started to threaten her that he would show it to her mother and eventually joined the long list of predators, the police said.

As the torture continued and the predators started hounding her, even visiting her at home, she dialled 181, the women helpline run by the Department of Social Welfare. It was then that the scandal finally came to light and the police acted swiftly and arrested all the eight involved in the case. The action was so fast that only after the arrest of all the accused did the issue come to the attention of the media.

The Virudhunagar rural police booked them under Indian Penal Code Sections 376 (2) (rape by more than one person); 354C (for sharing the clip) and 354D (for stalking); under the Information Technology Act; and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

In this particularly gruesome case of serial rape, the Virudhunagar police have not only acted swiftly and arrested all the accused but they have also booked them under relevant Sections, said the State secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, S. Lakshmi. She felt that a woman Deputy Superintendent of Police (Archana) being at the helm of the investigation was probably instrumental in speeding up the case. There were rumours of political pressure at play, but she stood her ground and quickly arrested everyone involved, she explained.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi, in a tweet, had said the arrest of all the accused persons was comforting. “The perpetrators should be given stringent punishment, no matter who they are,” she had said.

Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Vanathi Srinivasan wanted the accused booked under the Goondas Act. Demanding that there be no political interference, she wanted the case heard expeditiously and the guilty awarded capital punishment to prevent recurrence of such crimes.

Naturally, when the issue made the headlines, politics entered the picture. As the news spread that two of the accused persons belonged to the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and people started to compare this episode with the Pollachi sex scam, the police hurriedly called a press conference in Virudhunagar to squelch the rumours.

Chief Minister M.K. Stalin instructed the police to expeditiously charge-sheet all the accused and get them the maximum punishment. Consequently, Director-General of Police C. Sylendra Babu transferred the investigation to Virudhunagar DSP Archana from the Inspector of Police. However, as political parties raised a hue and cry, he transferred the case to the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department.

Ms. Lakshmi said, “As is usual in rape cases, a concerted effort is being made to tarnish the reputation of the woman.”

“The Chief Minister has promised action. But we are more concerned about the investigation and trial that could get the accused the maximum punishment since the crime seems to have no other witnesses (except for the victim and the accused). Hence, the police should strengthen the case using the [information] technology and get the victim justice,” Ms. Lakshmi said. She also wanted the police to widen the scope of the investigation to find out whether the accused had been involved in any other such crime.

The BJP staged a protest in Virudhunagar on Thursday. Its State president K. Annamalai complained that the involvement of ruling party men had made the victim hesitant to approach the police earlier. “The police should be let free to act so that they can prevent recurrence of [such] incidents,“ he said.

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Along the bone-dry Palar, a group of tombs occupy a portion of its sandy bund, off the Chennai-Bengaluru Highway (NH 48), at Sathuvachari in Vellore. A large compost yard of the Corporation is also being operated there. In between is a near- empty pond.

Usually, this place is deserted, except for a handful of conservancy workers going about their task in the morning and noon. The only other nearest location where people do come is a Tasmac shop behind the compost yard, a few hundred metres away from the Collectorate. Even here, the shutters come down at 11 p.m. and the crowd vanishes.

It was here on March 16 that a woman doctor hailing from Bihar was allegedly gang-raped by three persons, including two juveniles, while two co-accused held her male colleague, past midnight. All five persons have been arrested.

The modus operandi seemed to recall the Nirbhaya rape case, but it came to light rather curiously. The police arrested two men involved in a street fight. While being questioned, the two confessed to raping a woman and stealing stuff from her, the ownership over which they were fighting when caught.

The police wondered whether it was just an empty boast as they had not received any complaint about any rape in the area. However, they soon connected the dots to an anonymous complaint mailed to the Superintendent of Police, Vellore, a few days before, and a full-fledged investigation was launched. 

According to the complaint that reached the police, on March 16, the woman who works at a private hospital and her friend were returning to the hospital after watching the night show at a cinema. An autorickshaw, with five persons, including the driver, approached them and solicited a ride. Though initially uncomfortable with this, the two boarded the vehicle and bid the driver to go to the hospital.

A short distance later, the auto veered off the route to the hospital and the two passengers realised something was wrong and started shouting for help. However, the five others who were in the vehicle over-powered the two and took them to the secluded place. There, the gang raped the woman at knife point, as her friend was pinned down. The gang then stole their mobile phones and any gold jewellery they had on their person. It took the man to a nearby ATM, forced him to withdraw ₹40,000, took the money and left.

As the issue came up, Mr. Stalin assured the Assembly that action had been taken and the guilty would be punished. But, in the usually quiet town, the pervasive element is fear, and of course shock. “Never before have we heard of such a gory incident. Now we are scared to work in the (compost) yard even during the day time. We want to leave home early, especially after the incident,” says K. Devi, a conservancy worker.

The police, who are on the backfoot, have been trying hard to instill confidence in the residents that the city is safe for all residents. Meanwhile, Vellore SP S. Rajesh Kannan has blamed the incident on a bunch of causes: societal problem, parental supervision and a pervasive mobile culture. “Nevertheless, we have intensified our surveillance and checks.”


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Printable version | Mar 27, 2022 1:08:15 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/twin-horrors-rock-tamil-nadu/article65262054.ece