A 12-year-old girl from a tribal hamlet located deep inside the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in Coimbatore was allegedly sexually assaulted by a gang of five persons on January 1. However, it took several days after the alleged incident for the police to file an FIR based on an activist's petition on January 5. This because the family denied the incident and so did the girl. However, tribal and social activist S Thanaraj, after getting information about the alleged incident from local tribal volunteers, submitted a petition to the District Superintendent of Police (SP) S Selvanagarathinam and district Collector Dr GS Sameeran on Wednesday, January 5. The girl was taken for medical examination on January 7, the report from which is awaited.
According to Thanaraj and others TNM spoke to, many people in the village are aware of the alleged sexual assault, but there is hesitancy in reporting it. For one, many people from the settlement seemed to have been searching for the child after she went missing on January 1, and found her in a semi-conscious state in the evening allegedly after the group had sexually assaulted her and left her near her house.
The police however say that there is complete denial on the family's behalf and are skeptical of the complaint.
According to Thanaraj's petition, on the day of the incident, the parents of the girl were not at home when she was allegedly kidnapped by five masked persons around 2 pm. They had taken her into the forest and allegedly sexually assaulted her.
Speaking to TNM, the girl's relative, seeking anonymity, said that since the girlâ€™s eyes were covered by the alleged perpetrators, it was not possible for her to identify the perpetrators. The relative also noted a different timeline than the one in Thanarajâ€™s complaint â€“ according to the relative, the child was abducted in the morning and left near her house in the evening around 7 pm. When she was found, the village residents noted that her hands had been bound.
The tribal hamlet, located deep inside the Anamalai reserve, is quite remote and does not even get mobile network. The nearest bus station is around 30 to 40 kilometres away. The relative of the girl also added, â€śAnybody who wants to enter or exit the settlement has to obtain permission from one of the two Forest Rangers stationed on either side of the settlement.â€ť
According to the activists and local sources, the entire settlement is aware of the incident and afraid, including the girlâ€™s parents, who are denying that their child was sexually assaulted. The main reason, according to Tamil Nadu Malaivaazh Makkal Sangam's District President S Paramasivam, is that it is very rare for a tribal person to approach a police station. "Commutation is extremely difficult, they do not have enough awareness on the issue and so on," he added.
Thanaraj adds, "I see the initiation of an investigation and the resulting police action as a positive thing. As a social activist, I brought the incident to the notice of the police, based on the information which I received and verified myself. I submitted the petition seeking them to verify the veracity of the issue", Thanaraj said.
When TNM contacted the SP on January 5, he said that an investigation is underway. However, when the concerned investigating officer (IO) was contacted on the next day, the IO said the parents of the girl have denied that such an incident took place. The same day, a press release was circulated by the SP stating that while initial investigations do not reveal the occurrence of a sexual assault, an FIR has been filed based on Thanaraj's complaint and further probe is underway.
Meanwhile, the Collector said that an FIR has been registered and a medical check-up was conducted, based on a third party's (Thanarajâ€™s) complaint to rule out all possibilities. "If it is true, the survivor should be given justice. As of now, the parents are preferring not to file a complaint but counselling and assurance will be given to them, after the investigation," he said.
(With inputs from Sudhakar)