A 7-year-old rape survivor was found dead in her residence in Chennai on February 13, even as the case against her 15 alleged rapists is underway in a Mahila Court in Villupuram. The Chennai police have filed a case of unnatural death and have said that 'food poisoning' was the cause of her sudden demise. The child was living with her mother and stepfather.
Tara* and her sister Nila*, who's two years older than she is, were both staying with their maternal grandmother in Villupuram district in the years 2017 and 2018. Their mother Bhoomi* had left her husband and married a co-worker, and moved to Chennai. Unhappy with her decision, her family allegedly chose to keep the two girls away from her. However, towards the end of 2018, Bhoomi received a call from her daughters during which they claimed that they were unwell.
According to Villupuram police, the two girls had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by 15 of their relatives between the ages of 23 and 55. The accused are the sons of the girls' uncles.
While their mother immediately brought the girls back to Chennai, she did not approach the police about the alleged sexual assaults. When the girls began to talk about it, she allegedly beat them up, leaving wounds on their body.
"A teacher in the girls' school saw the wounds and asked them what happened. When they revealed their trauma, she immediately informed Childline. That is how we were alerted," says Viji, the inspector investigating the case. "The case was filed in July 2019, and the chargesheet was readied in December. It took time because of the sheer volume of reports and evidences required against 15 person," she adds.
According to the police, medical evidence has confirmed sexual assault of the children and while they initially named 10 people, the two girls named five more in a subsequent enquiry.
The case of death meanwhile has been recorded at the KK Nagar station.
"Since the children are already involved in a rape case, the police informed us. They have prima facie ruled it to be a case of food poisoning. But, we will wait to see the post mortem report," she adds. "The two girls recorded their statement before a magistrate and so that will not be a problem. I only wish the younger girl was alive to know that the crimes against her will not go unpunished," she adds.
The inspector further maintains that the mother of the children has not been cooperative from the beginning.
"Despite us working hard to gather evidence, the mother submitted in court that the children were making up stories and that they were never assaulted," she alleges.
The accused are currently out on bail and have been booked under 376AB (Punishment for rape on woman under twelve years of age) and the POCSO Act.
*Names changed to protect identity