In this edition of The Big Story we talk about the Pollachi sexual assault and extortion case.
This case reported from Pollachi, a small town in Tamil Nadu has shocked the country because of several reasons.
Before we get into all the problematic bits about the case, here's a quick background on what the case is about. The four main accused – Sabarirajan, Sathish, Vasanthkumar and Thirunavukkarasu – have been accused of sexually assaulting and blackmailing a 19-year-old college student from Pollachi, who filed a complaint naming them. She said that on the pretext of a meeting, Sabarirajan got her into a car where he was joined by the other three men and they disrobed her while filming all of it. Then they blackmailed her with the video saying if she didn't oblige with sexual favors and give them money then they would upload it online.
Heard this story before? But here's the alarming part, the four have been accused of doing the same thing to not one, not two but several women . From media reports the numbers are anywhere between 50-200 women, but that hasn't been confirmed yet. Tune in to The Big Story to know more.
And this is how the case got out. The survivor took her brother into confidence after the accused blackmailed her several times. The brother in turn tracked down two of these guys, beat them up and unearthed this elaborate ploy of extorting money through blackmail.
There were reportedly more videos of at least 3-4 women on the men's phones. It didn't seem to matter if the sex was forced or consensual – the point was to shoot a video, to be able to scare these women to give in to their demands.
Pollachi locals are enraged with this case, and they want quick justice. “How can you charge culprits who have harmed more than 200 women under only the Goondas Act? Had this happened to a politician's daughter or mother or any family member immediate action would have been taken,” one college student said.
There are several questionable aspects to this case. To begin with the reportage, people from Tamil Nadu may have come across a report about the case in February at least a couple of weeks before others did. But it only got seriously reported after two videos of one of the cases of sexual assault were leaked on social media by a Tamil magazine where the girl was pleading the accused to let go of her.
It goes without saying that the videos got viral and that's how it drew the national media's attentions. As if the video leak wasn't bad enough, the responses to the video on social media show that we are not really addressing the actual problems of rape, and are instead propagating rape culture.
Both genders to remember..those who call us as sisters are not true sisters.— Venkat (@aiswaryavenkat) March 13, 2019
Those who call us as brothers are not true brothers.
Believe your parents, believe your biological BRS and sisters.
This pollachi incident proves that whether it is Indian/ Tamil culture both are misogynistic and regressive. We need new reforms to save our women. The burqa and hijab will certainly help. #pollachi #Pollachigangrape #pollachirape #ArrestPollachiRapists #tamilshame— Bilal Ahamed (@Bilalah90) March 11, 2019
Another mistake was made by the police personnel probing the case.
On 1 March, Coimbatore SP R Pandiarajan held a televised press conference, where the police officer revealed the identity of the survivor, which is punishable by law.
And as if they learnt nothing from this error, on 6 March, the police released a statement to the press, illegally identifying the survivor with details including her name, educational background and locality.
All this despite a Supreme Court ruling that no person can publish in print, electronic, social media, etc, the name of the victim or even in a remote manner disclose any facts which can lead to the victim being identified.
Srimathi, who is an advocate demanded an inquiry committee headed by a woman.
"“We want an inquiry committee, headed by a woman, to be constituted to find out exactly what happened and dispense justice.”"
In fact, the police officers handling the case have a sketchy background themselves. One officer was seen slapping an anti-TASMAC woman protester in 2017. Another officer was accused of misbehaving with a woman during a NEET protest.
As has been the case with incidents of sexual abuse in India – this case became a political issue. Firstly, there’s a fifth accused in the case, 'Bar' Nagaraj an AIADMK functionary who was expelled by the party on 11 March.
Secondly, a local AIADMK leader allegedly attacked the survivor's brother.
Obviously the DMK seized the opportunity and jumped right in and claimed that the AIADMK was trying to shield the gang. The accused have been booked under Goondas Act, which authorises detention up to a year but they're out on bail. There are certain lapses about the way the police are handling the case. They haven’t demanded for custody of the men to question them.
And despite them suspecting that the gang may have blackmailed around 200 women, they only have evidence for four women, out of which they have identified only two. The police are also trying to look for any suicides related to the case. Currently, there are talks of handing the case over to the CBI.
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