In yet another shocking and serious lapse by the state when it comes to protecting the identity of the survivor in the Pollachi sexual assault case, the Government Order (GO) issued by the Tamil Nadu Home Department has revealed the name of the woman. Not just stopping at revealing the survivor’s identity, the GO dated March 13 goes on to mention the name of the college she is studying in, and also identifies her brother, who had given a complaint to the Pollachi East Police Station. This government order is now being forwarded on social media platforms, exposing the survivor to further harassment and trauma.
The GO violates established practice that allows the anonymity of survivors and victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in order to protect them and their families, given the social stigma that is associated with such crimes in India.
Indian law has barred media organisations and law enforcement agencies from revealing the identity of rape victims, even if they are dead – specifically offences committed under Sections 376, 376A, 376B, 376C or 376D of the IPC (rape, and other sexual assault offences). In such cases, police, or forensic authorities cannot disclose the names of rape victims, even with the parents’ consent, and FIRs of such cases are not to be made public. The Supreme Court had, in its December 2018 order, barred revealing the names of such victims on social media platforms and during protest rallies, noting that even judgments by court would not disclose the identity in these cases.
And although the Tamil Nadu government can argue that the Pollachi case is one of sexual assault with the offences in the FIR listed as 354A (sexual harassment), 354B (assault or use of criminal force against woman with intent to disrobe) of the IPC among others, wouldn’t it be prudent and sensitive on the part of the state to not disclose the identities of the survivor and her brother? Especially, when the initial investigation had suggested that there were several other women who may have been victims in this massive racket, and when the local police had urged other survivors to come forward and file complaints? Besides taking the investigation several steps back, the GO will only serve to reinforce the stigma, harassment and discrimination that survivors of any sexual crime undergo.
The GO comes despite the survivor seeking protection of her identity. In a petition submitted to the Coimbatore District Collector, she had stated, “Sir, nobody, including political parties, media and electronic media, should use my name based on what happened to me. If they do, they are adding to my mental trauma and humiliation. They are, thereby, responsible for the consequences of such actions. The justice I deserve should not be re-directed by political parties for their political opportunism. They should not hamper justice. I humbly request that action be taken on those spreading false messages regarding this.”
The survivor submitted the petition after the Coimbatore SP R Pandiarajan revealed her identity at a press conference, which was relayed by multiple television channels. Five days later, on March 6, the Pollachi police went on to release another statement identifying the survivor with details including her name, educational background and locality.