The arrest of a four-member gang of men for the alleged abuse and sexual harassment of several women in Tamil Nadu’s Pollachi has caused an uproar in the state. Scores of Tamilians have been posting for justice online with the hashtags #PollachiSexualAbuse and #ArrestPollachiRapist after the case came to light.
The case was on Tuesday transferred to the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department in the state, Tamil Nadu DGP TK Rajendran said.
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan was one of the people who had spoken out against the incident. In a statement he had said, “More than 60 women from Pollachi in Coimbatore, have been blackmailed and tortured by a group of men.”
The four accused, who were arrested based on the complaint of a 19-year-old woman, have been remanded to 15 more days in custody on Monday. On Tuesday, District Superintendent of Police R Pandiarajan said the three of the four men were remanded under the Goondas Act, The NewsMinutereported.
Sathish, Sabarirajan and Vasanthakumar were arrested in February based on the woman’s complaint, which said they had taken her in a car, attempted to disrobe her and videographed it. Thirunavukkarasu, the prime accused in the case, was arrested on 5 March.
As she refused to yield to their advances, the woman said the four men threw her out of the vehicle after snatching a gold chain.
The men then blackmailed her with the video, threatening to upload it online if she did not pay them, The NewsMinute reported.
An FIR filed has been filed against the men under sections 354(A) (sexual harassment), 354 (B) (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe) of the Indian Penal Code, 66(E) (Punishment for violation of privacy) of Information Technology Act, 2000 and section 4 of Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Women’s Harassment Act, the report said.
“All of them are from a middle-class background and they claimed that they had sexually abused women after they agreed to come to the place they demanded,” said DSP Jeyaram told The Indian Express.
How many women were targeted?
Mobile phones seized from the men allegedly contained over 40 video clips of women being sexually abused, according to The Hindu. An officer investigating the case told the Indian Express that the phones had images of around 50 women.
SP Pandiarajan, however, told reporters on Monday there were only four videos in the mobile phone seized from one of the accused, PTI reported.
A Tamil publication put out the video of another woman targeted by the gang which went viral online, The NewsMinute reported. In the disturbing video, a woman is reportedly seen pleading to be left alone.
The police said the gang’s modus operandi was to send the women, usually college students, messages on social media, invite them for dinners and long drives and then abuse them, reported NDTV.
The Pollachi police issued a public call asking women who were affected to file complaints, the report said, but no one came forward.
However, four victims informally spoke to the police about how they were trapped by the gang, an officer told the The Indian Express. “Their versions corroborated with the confessions made by the accused,” the officer said.
The AIADMK angle
The Opposition in the state has alleged people close to Deputy Speaker and AIADMK MLA V Jayaraman are involved in the case, The Hindu reported.
Jayaraman denied any connection to the case. “I am saying this on the basis because no news reports had published the information but my photo was published along with the line that a political party member and his two sons are involved. This is a big lie,” he said.
A Nagaraj, accused in the case for threatening the 19-year-old woman’s brother, was expelled of the AIADMK on Monday.
“A Nagaraj is being terminated from all posts including that of primary membership of the party for having behaving in a manner which would bring disrepute to the party,” the party’s statement said, quoted TNM.
Thirunavukkarasu, the prime accused, asked for transfer of the probe to CBI claiming politically influential persons were involved in the case, TNM reported.
In an audio clip released by Thirunavukkarasu, he is heard saying, “There is a lot of details about important party men in those videos and photos. I am going to tell a big truth. I need the support of the leader of opposition party, media friends, advocate and the judge.”
On Monday, SP Pandiarajan said no politician was involved in the case as was being speculated in the social media.
Opposition demands action
Opposition leaders have targeted the ruling AIADMK government, accusing it of protecting culprits in the case.
DMK chief Stalin said, “It is highly condemnable that the ruling AIADMK is protecting the culprits. The police have not taken adequate action even though the crimes against girls have been taking place for a long time.”
DMK’s Kanimozhi tweeted:
“What is painful is the reports that the ruling AIADMK is trying to protect the culprits. Those who are behind the incident should be brought to book and if the government fails in its duty, we will organise protests,” MDMK’s Vaiko said.
PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss said the arrested men “cannot be the only ones involved in a crime of this nature. The police should find out everyone involved in this network.”