Pollachi Sexual Abuse and Extortion Case — All You Need to Know
Reports suggest that the gang of men may have abused and extorted close to 200 women in the last 7 years.
Following one woman’s complaint registered in February, the sexual abuse and extortion case unearthed in Tamil Nadu’s Pollachi (district Coimbatore) has rocked the state. The horrifying nature of the crimes and the fact that the accused men allegedly abused and blackmailed women for as long as seven years, have also reignited conversation about victim shaming in Indian society which discourages women from coming forward and registering a complaint.
The abuse and extortion racket
According to a report by Ragamalika Karthikeyan in The News Minute, the modus operandi of the gang of four men was to lure women in a secluded house or a hotel and either convince them to have sex or rape them. An accomplice would hide and shoot a video of the act and then blackmail the women threatening to upload the videos on the internet.
There are also reports that the men had indulged in similar abuse of several other women over the past seven years after befriending them.
One of the videos was released by a Tamil magazine, a move that has sparked outrage. In the video, two of the accused can be seen and a woman is seen crying and pleading to be let go.
Three other videos have been leaked, and police say that the accused used them to blackmail the women for sexual favours and money.
Several news media outlets and journalists body the Network of Women in Media (NWM) has condemned the publication of these videos saying, “It serves no purpose and is voyeuristic,” adding that the circulation of the video has only “taken perversion into homes.”
How it came to light
Per The News Minute, the case was uncovered after a 19-year-old college student was sexually abused, blackmailed and extorted by the gang. The student, Priya (name changed), was called by her acquaintance, Sabarirajan (alias Riswandh) , on February 12. He said he wanted to discuss something with Priya, alone. He asked her to meet him at a bus stop in Pollachi. When she reached the bus stop, Sabarirajan was standing with his friend Thirunavukkarasu who was also an acquaintance of Priya. The two men asked her to get in a car. When the car started, two more men — Sathish and Vasanthkumar — got inside. The four men then forcefully disrobed Priya and filmed the act.
The men reportedly threatened her that if she did not provide them with sexual favours and money, they would upload the video. They left her in the middle of the road after she screamed and cried.
Following multiple blackmail attempts by the men, Priya confided in her family. Her brother tracked down Thirunavukkarasu and Sabarirajan and got hold of their cellphones. In the phones, there were videos of other women that the gang may have blackmailed. The family then approached the Pollachi police and filed a complaint of sexual harassment and robbery.
25-year-old Sabarirajan alias Riswandh, 26-year-old Thirunavukkarasu, Vasanthkumar and Sathish are the four prime accused in the case.
The News Minute reported that an FIR was filed on February 24 under 354A (sexual harassment), 354B (assault or use of criminal force against woman with intent to disrobe), and 394 (robbery) of the IPC; section 66E of the IT Act (violation of privacy); and section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Women Act (sexual harassment).
A separate case of assault, of Priya’s brother, has reportedly been registered against friends of the four accused. In this FIR, Nagaraj — an AIADMK worker who has now been expelled by the party — has also been named.
The number of victims
While videos of four separate women have been recovered from the phones of the accused, media reports suggest that the number of victims is between 50 and 200 but there is no confirmation as women are reluctant to come forward.
In an audio message released by accused Thirunavukkarasu, he says that the case against him is false but also says that ‘99 other women’ participated willingly, The News Minute reported.
Callousness of Tamil Nadu police
Several questions have been raised regarding the Tamil Nadu police’s conduct in the case.
Per an NDTV report, in its statement to the press, the police disclosed the name of the survivor who filed the complaint, despite an obvious legal prohibition. The report adds that the police has not even applied for the custody of three of the accused men in order to question them.
NCW chief Rekha Sharma issued a notice to DGP, Tamil Nadu, T K Rajendran to take appropriate action against the accused.
“The commission is seriously concerned about the safety and security of the women in the state of Tamil Nadu,” Sharma said in a letter.
“Considering the gravity of the matter, it is requested that appropriate action be taken as per the relevant provisions of law against all the accused and a detailed action taken report in the matter be sent to the commission,” she added.
The case has now been handed to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), reported PTI.
On Wednesday, March 13, protests by college students and various organisations were staged in Coimbatore and other districts, demanding stern action against the accused and expressing solidarity with the woman.
Per a report in The Hindu, in Chennai, over 300 students from Pachaiyappa’s College, students from New College and Government Arts College, Nandanam, Dr. MGR University protested demanding action against the perpetrators. In Tiruvannamalai, more than 250 students of Government Arts College staged a demonstration.
The report added that students of the Government Arts Colleges in Coimbatore and Udumalpet in Tiruppur boycotted classes seeking the arrest of all the accused.
The ruling AIADMK has come under fire for the involvement of its worker, Nagaraj, a bar owner in Pollachi, in the case.
DMK chief MK Stalin has demanded a court-monitored probe in the matter and has accused the state government of maintaining silence on the issue. “It is a shame that the Chief Minister E Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam have not said anything on this,” has said, adding “Invoking Goondas Act raises doubts on whether it is an attempt to technically help the accused. Recent women suicides in the area ought to be reinvestigated,” reported NDTV.
“Many of them are saying we are politicising the issue. Nobody wants to politicise this. But if the government acts only after the matter becomes politicised, then what else can be done?” DMK MP Kanimozhi said, reported The News Minute.
(With PTI inputs)