On 10 November, over two thousand Malaivasi tribals took to the streets of Sittilingi, an Adivasi settlement in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, to protest an atrocity that was previously unheard of in the village—the gang rape and subsequent death of a 16-year-old teenager. The Adivasi residents mobilised to protest not only the police failure to arrest the perpetrators, but also their acts of negligence and complicity, as well as that of the government hospital where she was taken after the sexual assault. “We trusted the police when they took the girl; we thought they would taken care of her,” one of the protestors, a 38-year-old nurse who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, said. “The police have never cared for us tribals, but we thought that at least in such a serious case they would take care of her. Now we see the police as murderers as much as the boys.”
Two days later, the 16-year-old’s body was brought back to Sittilingi from the hospital for a traditional Adivasi funeral, accompanied by a police force of at least two hundred officers. The residents all expressed serious concerns about the police presence in the village—particularly given the state police’s record of violently clamping down on protests. As a result, most of the protestors I spoke to were unwilling to be identified by name. “We told the boys to all take videos of all events because we knew the police would start the violence, then blame it on us to disrupt the protest,” a 21-year-old college student, who resides in Sittilingi, told me.
According to the locals, the police were guilty not only of inaction in investigating the crime, but of a dedicated effort to cover it up and characterise it as an attempt to rape. They failed to ensure immediate medical attention for the 16-year-old, did not alert the necessary authorities regarding the sexual assault and engaged in a series of negligent acts that ultimately led to her death, in the Government Dharmapuri Medical College and Hospital—a government hospital in the district. From the first stage of registering a first information report, the circumstances that led to her death exhibit a string of lapses, which locals believe are characteristic of the government’s treatment of Adivasis.