Pollachi sexual assault case: Women in Tamil Nadu are suffering due to political exploitation, media bias

It was a Monday morning and I woke up to the alarming number of beep tones coming from my Facebook messenger application on my phone. Multiple friends and family members had forwarded me a video which had just been released by Tamil Nadu’s investigative journalism magazine Nakkheeran.

What startled me was that it showed a women being sexually assaulted by a group of men in a resort in Pollachi. As soon as the video starts, one could hear a young woman crying. Her face was digitally masked. Then, a guy signals to other men to come inside. That’s when I stopped. I realised what it was and I did not want to watch it further. All I had to do was log into my social media accounts to get the rest of the story.

As expected, people on Facebook and Twitter were up in arms about the incident. Over the next few hours, it emerged that this wasn’t an isolated incident but an organised crime racket which involved sexual assault of several kinds on different women over a period of seven years in the ‘conservative’ town of Pollachi.

Most of the women were befriended by these men on Facebook, promised a relationship, taken to a farm house, gang-raped and filmed. This organised crime was led by a young man called Tirunavukarasu who belongs to an affluent family from a dominant caste in Tamil Nadu. The people involved in the gang rape, filming and distribution of the video are related to party men of the ruling AIADMK.

Pollachi sexual assault case: Women in Tamil Nadu are suffering due to political exploitation, media bias

Representational image. News18

The main accused is a close relative of Tamil Nadu’s deputy speaker Pollachi Jayaraman. The third accused, Nagaraj, is a close aide of AIADMK minister Velumani. These two ruling party officials have not been apprehended in any way in spite of the charges against them. People who have seen the videos have been sharing graphic details of the rape in them.

Ironically, this news first surfaced on 26 February. The outrage did not emerge till the rape video was released by Nakkheeran. Only then did people start talking about the organised nature of the crime and those involved. This week has been filled with despair, ‘advice to women’ and agitations across the state. This week has been especially traumatic for women.

I am tired and triggered, but I want to raise some crucial issues:

The political exploitation of the Pollachi sexual assault survivors

Involvement of the ruling party’s political dynasty in this case requires Opposition parties such as the DMK to take AIADMK to task. But what disappoints me here is the speed at which DMK supporters started sharing the video of rape without a minuscule of ethics. They could have shared the news of the organised crime to attack AIADMK. This would have worked as well.

Instead, using this as an opportunity to disarm AIADMK politically in the wake of the 2019 elections, the leaked videos were shared with or without masking. Leaders took part in dramatically narrating the contents of the video which was also shared on social media. These are extremely violative, in addition to being ethically wrong.

The magazine Nakkheeran, which otherwise is commended for uncovering various scandals and corruption in the state, totally lost track as well. In its race to be politically relevant and to get eyeballs, they leaked the videos to the masses, without as much as taking into consideration the lives of the sexual assault survivors. The race for readership triumphed over protecting the modesty and privacy of the survivors.

Let me make something clear. Tamil Nadu is not safe for women. When people say, ‘Tamil Nadu is Periyar’s land, women and children are safe here’, I just laugh.

It is true that Dravidian ideologies have helped Tamil Nadu excel in social welfare. The state has introduced the country’s first women-centric schemes and laws. But the data collected over the years by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and various human rights organisations prove that the safety of women and children in Tamil Nadu has been far from good, especially in rural areas.

The failure of the state to control casteism and patriarchy has resulted in increased number of honour killings, rapes and child abuse. What is worse is that there is nobody to monitor the State Monitoring Committee, which is supposed to look into these crimes. Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is the head of this committee.

Despite the high number of crimes against women which take place in the state, all large political parties do not acknowledge the actual state of affairs. AIADMK does not acknowledge the crimes and the Opposition DMK usually issues a digital statement about the crime. Or is up in arms just before an election.

Women deserve justice irrespective of the political climate around them.

National media’s bias against the south

The High court of Madras posed an important question: “Why didn’t the rape receive sufficient attention? Why do rapes in UP and Delhi get more airtime than Pollachi?”

Tamil Nadu has been discussing Pollachi since the video was released. Nobody outside the state seems to have been as affected by this incident for quite a while. But is this the first incident from Tamil Nadu which didn’t make it to a national media channel’s primetime slot? Forget national media channels, even some Tamil media channels ignored this issue.

After the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the nation felt the pain. For months, we discussed it and an important law came to be passed. Seeing the manner in which the media rallied behind massive protests during this incident, I felt that the country was unified against crimes against women. But when a similar incident occurred in a rural village in Tamil Nadu, the news was blacked out.

In 2017, Nandini — a Dalit girl from the village of Ariyalur — was pregnant with her lover’s child. A dominant caste leader belonging to the Hindu Munnani gang raped the girl along with his friends, removed her fetus, killed her and threw her naked body in a nearby well. Her body was discovered after a week, covered with maggots.

If the 2012 Delhi gang rape could affect the country’s sentiment unanimously, what about the women from the south?

When will Nandini be relevant for the rest of the country? When the Pollachi sexual assault evoke a similar interest?

It is time the national media took a look at the state of women in the south, instead of what food was served at a wedding or what dress an actor’s daughter wore to a party.

The ruling government’s track record

A heinous crime takes place in our state and the chief minister does not hold a press conference to reassure us or to explain what his government is doing to make sure that the perpetrators of this organised crime are brought to book. Time and again, the chief minister proves that he is just a namesake. He does not take responsibility for any mishaps happening in the state, irrespective of the magnitude of the issue.

Pollachi is a stronghold of the ruling AIADMK. It is host to many hate crimes in the state, especially caste-based killings. The city belongs to the ‘kongu belt’, which is often adjudged as the capital of various caste-related associations which are very active in the state. The leaders of these caste associations on various occasions have gone on record stating that they will not let inter-caste marriages happen and if their women break the rules, they should be killed to safeguard caste pride.

Irrespective of the hate speeches, these leaders were never apprehended. On the contrary, they are close associates of the chief minister. The deputy speaker and a minister are accused of playing hosts to the criminals involved in this organised crime but the chief minister has not yet advised them to resign till the investigation reaches its logical end.

Safety of women has been an alien concept for the ruling AIADMK. Nirmala Devi, chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University, was arrested for approaching women students for sex in exchange for degree and accolades with proof. She was accused along with suggested involvement of Governor Banawarilal Purohit. The professor is behind bars now, but the Tamil Nadu government failed to investigate this further.

The AIADMK government has for seven years been playing silent spectator to such organised crimes.

The BJP government is yet to make a statement on this. Well, who cares about women? Leaders of the BJP government have previously been accused of stalking women, encouraging organised troll activity online and institutionalised crimes. It seems like they are just passively supporting their political allies in Tamil Nadu.

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Updated Date: Mar 17, 2019 17:33:38 IST

Updated: March 17, 2019 — 12:53 pm