In the midst of a sexual harassment case that has grabbed the attention of the state, the AIADMK seems to be on wobbly ground after allegations that people connected to the party may be involved in the case came out. A group of men from Pollachi region in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu are alleged to have sexually harassed more than 50 women across the state in a span of seven years.
On February 24, based on a complaint from a 19-year-old girl near Pollachi, the police registered a case against four men on various charges of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Women Harassment Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
According to the complaint, the gang of four befriended women, assaulted them, videotaped the act and then used it to extort money from them. According to sources privy to the investigation, the 19-year-old girl was not the sole person to fall prey for the sexual predators. “These youths have been doing it for years by befriending the girls through social media. After confiscating the mobile phones, we found more than 50 videos that were recorded by these youths while sexually harassing women. However, they have reportedly forgotten the identity of some of the victims,” a source said.
While the police reportedly had video evidence for rape charges, they have chosen not to charge the men with rape, since it was not mentioned in the complaint. The matter came to light after the girl’s brother was seen fighting with a few of the accused, asking them to delete the video of his sister in their possession. The police, who took note of this, convinced the girl’s family to lodge a complaint and promised them that her identity would be protected.
However, the district police revealed her identity on three occasions in their press releases. When asked about it, superintendent of police R Pandiyarajan said they mistakenly revealed the identity and that it will not happen again. Soon after the FIR was filed, the police arrested N Sabarirajan, 25; N Sathish, 29 and T Vasanthakumar, 26, on the same day, and the prime accused K Thirunavukkarasu, 26, in the first week of March.
According to the FIR filed by the police, the 19-year-old girl was introduced to Sabarirajan by her friend in college. Later, Sabarirajan introduced his friend Thirunavukkarasu to her. “As Sabarirajan was my brother’s age, I was in friendly touch with him. On February 12, Sabarirajan called me and said he wanted to speak to me in person. When I came out of the college, Sabarirajan and Thirunavukkarasu were waiting in their car and asked me to get inside the car to speak personally,” the girl stated in her complaint, accessed by The Federal.
While Thirunavukkarasu drove the car, Sabarirajan and two of his friends, Sathish and Vasanthakumar, joined them in the car. Sabarirajan assaulted her, while the other three took videos of it. The gang robbed her of a two sovereign gold chain and abandoned her on Dharapuram Road near Pollachi. The men later used the video to blackmail her for money. The girl initially did not reveal the incident to her family, but told them later on February 23 as she could not bear the torture of the four men, who had been demanding sexual favours from her. When asked about other women who were assaulted by the men, SP R Pandiyarajan said they were investigating it, and had recovered four videos of sexual assault from the phones of the accused. “They had deleted the other videos, but we have given it to personnel of forensic department to recover the deleted videos,” said Pandiyarajan.
Explaining the modus operandi of the men, a senior police official in the Pollachi region said the men had a gang of about 10 others who would help Thirunavukkarasu and Sabarirajan book hotels. “Their targets were mostly girls between the ages of 17 and 23 as they fall prey to these predators easily. Of these, we managed to identity four women in the Pollachi locality. Two of them are married and they are not ready to file a complaint or become a witness to the case,” the senior official said. On February 26, while the police were on the lookout for the prime accused Thirunavukkarasu, five of his friends allegedly waylaid the 24-year-old brother of the girl and criminally intimidated him for filing a police complaint.
The brother of the girl then lodged a complaint against the five men, based on which the police booked A Nagaraj alias Muthuraj, an AIADMK member, T Senthil, P Babu, R Mani alias Manivannan and Vasanthakumar on various charges including criminal intimidation. However, all of them walked out on condition bail. The AIADMK high command later sacked Nagarajan. Later, towards the end of the first week of March, a video of another girl surfaced on social media, in which she is heard pleading with the accused to not beat her.
All the four men accused of sexual harassment have been lodged in the Coimbatore Central Prison under judicial custody. After political outrage, on Tuesday, Coimbatore collector K Rajamani detained all four accused under Goondas Act. Thirunavukkarasu’s parents filed a plea for conditional bail before the Pollachi magistrate court on Monday. Another youth has approached the Madras High Court seeking anticipatory bail, fearing that he would be arrested in connection with a case for assaulting and criminally intimidating the brother of the girl. Meanwhile, the rural police have also moved the Pollachi magistrate court seeking cancellation of conditional bail of the four accused.
In a press conference, state assembly deputy speaker Pollachi V Jayaraman refuted the allegations of the opposition party and claimed that he was the first person who brought the issue to the notice of the Coimbatore police. “The allegation levelled against the AIADMK party was purely of political motive. I was the first person to forward the matter to the Coimbatore Superintendent of Police to take action and it was me who convinced the victim family members to file a complaint assuring that their identity would be protected,” he said.
Further, Pollachi Jayaraman slammed DMK leader MK Stalin’s son-in-law Sabareesan for spreading rumours on social media. Nevertheless, DMK, which took the opportunity to criticise AIADMK, has called for a protest at Thiruvalluvar ground in Pollachi, in which the DMK women wing secretary Kanimozhi is set to participate. Leaders of parties in alliance with DMK, including Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan, have sought a proper investigation into the case.
Leaders of parties in alliance with the AIADMK, including the PMK chief Ramadoss, BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan and BJP minister for state Pon Radhakrishnan have also demanded strict action against the culprits. The case took a political turn when the girl’s family released a video to the media, in which the brother of the girl is heard saying Jayaraman, who is the Kinathukadavu constituency MLA, helped him lodge the complaint. He is heard thanking the AIADMK in the video.
After the video went viral on social media, there were a lot of tweets alleging the involvement of AIADMK in the case. The party then identified such social media accounts and lodged a complaint with the Chennai police. The police have registered a case against three social media account holders on various charges including Section 469 (forgery for the purpose of harming reputation) and Section 471(using as genuine a forged document) of the IPC for forging the social media cards of television media to spread rumours.