A Storm of protests and outrage has broken out in Tamil Nadu in the fortnight since the case of serial sexual assault and extortion in Pollachi in Coimbatore district came to public attention. Leaked video and audio recordings, police missteps, and alleged political interference have fuelled the protests. On March 13, students from 150 colleges and universities in the State boycotted classes to carry out demonstrations.
The issue came to light in the third week of February when a woman approached the police, initially with a complaint of chain snatching. It was later revealed that four men had allegedly sexually harassed and blackmailed her. The arrest of the suspects revealed a huge racket of blackmailing women for sexual favours or money which has been going on since 2013, with officials stating that at least 50 women may have been sexually harassed. On March 12, the case was transferred from the Tamil Nadu Police to the CB-CID and the next day, the government announced that the CBI would conduct the investigation. Despite these steps, there is a general distrust of the fairness of the probe, especially due to the lapses in the investigation so far.
For instance, Coimbatore SP R. Pandiyarajan, who was initially responsible for the investigation, actually revealed the name of the survivor in a press conference. Both the Pollachi police and a Government Order reportedly also revealed her name too. Though the IPC clearly protects survivors from such disclosures, the repeated instances of such revelations are being viewed as a means of intimidation to prevent women from coming forward and complaining. “This is gross injustice. Just this one act will function in keeping other women from coming forward, threatening them effectively into silence.
The Editor of Tamil journal Nakheeran, has come under fire from the state wing of the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI). In a statement shared by a member on Facebook, they strongly condemned “…the publication of audio-visual content pertaining to a horrific incident of rape through various platforms. The content, unambiguously, belongs to Nakkheeran, and Mr. Gopal has also urged people to “watch the video” … Contrary to the claim that the video has served the purpose of initiating outrage, it has only taken perversion into homes via mobile and television screens, as perverted and voyeuristic content, and we do hope you will take all efforts to remove that content forthwith from all fora, including social media.”
These events have led to massive outrage in the State. Opposition parties and civil society organisations have mobilised strongly on the issue. The protests intensified after an AIADMK worker, A. Nagaraj, was reported to have assaulted the brother of the survivor. Nagaraj was expelled, citing ‘actions that run contrary to the beliefs and aims of the party’ in a statement co-signed by Chief Minister Most of the opposition organisations have expressed scepticism of SP Pandiyarajan’s claim that there is no “political connection” to this issue. n