On 6 January, the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested three men from Pollachi, a town in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district, including a local All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, in a case of sexual assault. The case was filed in February 2019, based on the complaint of a college student who wrote that she had been assaulted by three different men. Over the next two years, the CBI made minimal progress on the case, until the recent arrests. The arrests have come in the run up to Tamil Nadu elections, to be held on 6 April, after the AIADMK made moves to distance itself from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Several activists and political commentators told me that the arrests were an attempt by the CBI and the central government to arm-twist the AIADMK into an alliance with the BJP and get more seats in the seat-sharing process.
In her complaint, the college student from Pollachi wrote that three men had sexually assaulted her, videographed the incident and blackmailed her with it. On 11 March, Nakkheeran, a Tamil-language investigative magazine, reported that it had uncovered several more such videos of the same men and spoken to the survivors of similar incidents in Pollachi. Rajagopal, the editor of Nakkheeran, in a video, said that the three men were closely associated with the ruling AIADMK and had assaulted over 1,100 women, taken similar videos and had been blackmailing them. He also said that the district police had been fully aware of this gang assaulting women, because of previous complaints as well as several women dying by suicide. The police have, however, denied Rajagopal’s report.
After facing stiff criticism, the state government transferred the case to the CBI on 12 March 2019, a day after the Nakkheeran report. Alarmingly, the CBI has not investigated the Pollachi police, which multiple complainants as well as activists claim helped cover-up several hundred sexual assaults by the gang.
Both the investigations of the Tamil Nadu Police and the CBI are riddled with procedural lapses and inaction. For instance, both the CBI and the Tamil Nadu police failed to investigate a string of suicides by women in Pollachi which activists claim were linked to similar blackmail by the gang. Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, a member of parliament and the secretary of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s women’s wing, told me that the investigations served to shield members of the AIADMK, erase any role the police had in the cover up of assaults in Pollachi and silence other women who were assaulted by the gang. According to media reports, the Pollachi police did not initially register an FIR based on the survivor’s complaint, and later failed to act on evidence, including examining the phones of the gang, which were given to them by the complainant’s brother. The police also filed poor paperwork leading to the release of an AIADMK member who was arrested in the case.
In a move that activists claim was an attempt to threaten other victims of the gang, the Tamil Nadu government and R Pandiarajan, Coimbatore’s superintendent of police, publicly released the name of the survivor as well as her address on two separate occasions. They also failed to protect the survivor’s family, leading to an attack on her brother by members of the gang. In fact, the CBI even attempted to prematurely close the case regarding the brother’s assault before it was reprimanded by a lower court and asked to continue its investigation. After the initial FIR filed by the CBI, there has not been a single update on the case on the CBI’s website which a former CBI officer told me was highly unusual. The CBI did not make any updates about the recent arrests either.