Nirmala Devi’s confession may not be applicable in court – but her statements give enough reason to look into whether Madurai Kamaraj University’s Vice Chancellor and Registrar had something to do with the sex-for-cash scandal.

Exclusive details of Nirmala Devis confession Are bigger fish being let off
news Crime Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 19:50

In April this year, Tamil Nadu woke up to shocking news. A female assistant professor at a college in Virudhunagar district was caught on tape attempting to lure four of her students into sex work. She offered the young women, who studied at the Devanga Arts College, money and opportunities if they met the 'expectations' of a senior official in the University. When the administration was alerted, Nirmala Devi was temporarily suspended. But soon after the media caught wind of the incident, the police were forced to intervene and arrest the instructor.

The case was then taken over by the CB-CID who arrested two others based on Nirmala Devi’s confession – assistant professor Murugan from the Madurai Kamaraj University, and a former research scholar, Karuppusamy. Neither is a ‘senior official’ in the university; despite Nirmala Devi claiming on tape that she was soliciting the students for a 'higher official' and even dropping Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit's name into the conversation, the CB-CID has not probed further. They told the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court in September that Nirmala Devi was luring the young women only for her two colleagues, Murugan and Karuppuswamy, who had already been arrested.

And yet two weeks later, when the suspended assistant professor arrived at the Virudhunagar Magistrate court surrounded by police, she made a shocking claim. Nirmala Devi who was lodged in the high security Madurai Central prison, alleged that her life was in danger. But if her fellow perpetrators were already nabbed, who did she fear would harm her? And did this case really not go beyond these three accused, as the police claimed?

In an effort to answer these questions, TNM accessed portions of the chargesheet submitted by the CB-CID, and amongst these papers is a 19 page 'confession' statement of Nirmala Devi.

Nirmala Devi’s confession

In the 1,366 page chargesheet that was submitted in September by the CB-CID, over 100 witnesses have been mentioned. This includes the students who were harassed, professors from Devanga Arts College and Madurai Kamaraj University, Nirmala Devi's housekeeping staff and a multitude of police officers. Several of them have given ‘confession’ statements – which are not admissible in court; however, these statements do help the investigators move forward with their probe and question all the people involved in the crime.

Nirmala Devi’s 19-page confession is part of the chargesheet, and in this statement, the assistant professor claims she has earlier hidden some truths from the investigators, and that this is the statement with the ‘full truth’.

In the confession recorded under section 161 of the CrPC on April 25, a week after her arrest, the main accused in the sex-for-cash case claims that the phone call that she made to her students was at the behest of Murugan and Karuppusamy, and that she had guessed that the two men had asked her to ‘arrange’ for college students at the behest of the Vice Chancellor and Registrar of the Madurai Kamaraj University. She further claims that she did not know the Tamil Nadu Governor, Banwarilal Purohit, and she only named him and sent his photos and videos to her students in order to make herself sound more influential and credible to the students.

Nirmala’s relationship with Murugan

The assistant professor’s confession says that she came in contact with Murugan in her pursuit of a refresher course at the Madurai Kamaraj University. She was put in touch with Murugan by a common friend, who had told her that Murugan was an influential person in the university.

"In the second week of November 2017, I went in person to the Madurai Kamaraj University, and met Murugan sir in his department, and asked him to get me a seat in the refresher course. He immediately said he will check with the Registrar's office, and came to the Registrar’s office in his car. I, too, went to the Registrar’s office in my car,” Nirmala’s confession says.

“Like me, there were two-three other people who had come to the Registrar’s office, asking for a seat in the refresher course. At that time, Registrar Chinnaiah saw me, and wrote my name down in a small piece of paper and put his signature on it, and asked me to go to the HRDC (Human Resource Development Centre) office," she says. However, since there were several people applying for the course, she did not get a seat in that round. She continued to keep in touch with Murugan, she says, and in the last week of November, Murugan came to her house in Aruppukottai and the two of them had sex.

Murugan then asked her if her daughter ‘will come’, and Nirmala said she would not agree, the confession says. “Following this, he asked if any college students I knew would listen to me," she claims. To this, Nirmala Devi claims to have said that the 'situation in college was not right' and that she could not ask students right away. There is no mention in the confession about what Murugan was offering in return.

In March 2018, Nirmala Devi says she got into the course that she was pursuing; whether this had anything to do with Murugan’s alleged influence over the Registrar is unclear. According to the statement by Kalaichelvan, another MKU professor who knew Nirmala Devi, the selection for the refresher course was done as per UGC rules and Nirmala Devi got in since she had applied earlier.

Murugan’s friend Karuppusamy

While she was in MKU for the refresher course, Nirmala Devi met Karuppusamy, a PhD scholar in his 30s, and a friend of Murugan. Murugan gave Karuppusamy’s number to Nirmala, telling her to contact him if she needed anything in the university. Karuppusamy gave her the impression that he knew higher officials in the university by introducing her to the Distance Education Director, she says. Nirmala then says she had sex with Karuppusamy, who then told her that he was going to Chennai the next week on an important ‘assignment’, and asked her if she could ‘arrange’ for college girls for the same. Nirmala says she told Karuppusamy she will try.

Murugan and Karuppusamy continued to put pressure on her, Nirmala says, and on March 12, 2018, she says she sent a third year student in her college multiple SMSes, and asked her to get three more students involved as well.

On March 15, the conversation between Nirmala Devi and the four students transpired, the audio of which went viral.

‘Named Governor to make myself look influential’

When the recorded conversation first hit the internet, it sent ripples across social media. In the 19 minute clip, not only did Nirmala Devi claim she was soliciting women for a very 'big official' in MKU, but even stated that she had access to the Governor.

In her confession statement however, Nirmala Devi says she did not know the Governor – she claims that photos and videos of the Governor that she had, were taken at an inauguration ceremony at Mother Teresa College, and she sent them to the students in the hope of influencing them.

"I took selfies with my colleagues and I was seeing the Governor for the first time in person. I took a video of the Governor and took photos too. I took another video when the Governor was leaving," she says. "I shared these with the third year BSc Math female students and one first year student. I believed that if I sent the video to the third year students, they will believe I have a lot of influence and listen to what I am saying," she claims.

In the audio conversation, Nirmala Devi is heard saying ‘Governor thatha illa.’ This statement has led to two interpretations – either that the ‘higher authority’ involved is not Governor ‘thatha’; or, that she is saying 'the Governor is not a grandfather.'

In the confession, Nirmala Devi’s clarification regarding the issue is unclear. “I had sent the video of the Governor right, a few things had happened then, there was no screen in between, I said Governor level, and not Governor thatha, because I thought if I casually mention the Governor, the students will trust me and oblige,” she says.

‘Guessed Murugan and Karuppusamy were working for VC, Registrar’

Going into the details of her phone call to the students, Nirmala Devi says in her confession that she mentioned ‘higher officials’ in the phone call because she guessed Murugan and Karuppusamy were working on behalf of the VC and Registrar, considering the amount of secrecy they were maintaining. “When I said I know important persons, I meant Murugan sir,” Nirmala says, “I meant Karuppusamy when I said they are continuously requesting me (for students.)”

“I said that “even I was tested properly before being told these things, which means these are definitely higher officials”, because on March 9, Karuppusamy focussed on me during the MKU function, and then did not trust me (with demand for students) until I had sex with him till March 12. He told me this (asked for students) only after that, and therefore I said this (that I was tested),” she says.

Nirmala also says that she met Murugan after the audio clip went viral, too, asking him to put in a word with the VC and Registrar once again. "Murugan said that because of Karuppusamy, we have both been put in this difficult situation. He said, 'I am just growing now. Please don't pull me into this. I have already spent lot of money on the VC and Registrar.' He said he would give me Rs 5 lakh to pay my daughter's fees. He gave me Rs 50,000 when I asked for a lakh immediately. He said he’ll get me a job in another university. I took the money and asked him to inform the VC and Registrar," says Nirmala Devi in her statement.

Why hasn’t CB-CID questioned VC, Registrar?

In an investigation that is aimed at exposing the web of alleged sexual abuse within the Madurai Kamaraj University, it is surprising that despite these statements, the CB-CID has not questioned either Vice Chancellor PP Chellathurai or Registrar V Chinnaiah – both of whom are mentioned in several places in Nirmala’s confession.

"Our chargesheet consists of all evidences – scientific and technological. She never spoke about the VC and Registrar in her confession. It is merely her assumption that she worked for them,” says Rajeshwari, an investigation officer from the CB CID.

“We have unearthed everything that is required at this stage. The confession statement of Karuppusamy and Murugan are also important. The trial has begun and we have all the necessary information. We will see in court that our stand is justified," she adds.

Is Nirmala Devi being made a scapegoat?

A considerable portion of Nirmala Devi’s ‘confession’, recorded by the CB-CID, tries to paint her as an ‘immoral’ woman who has had physical relationships with several men. In fact, her statement mentions several men who have nothing to do with either her college and university, or the sex-for-cash case that she has been arrested for; the purpose of naming these men seems only to further paint a portrait of Nirmala Devi as an ‘easy’ woman, who has had sexual relationships with many men.

In fact, the confession ends with a statement stressing on how she neither knows nor has spoken to the Vice Chancellor or the Registrar of the University – raising the question, had the investigators already arrived at a conclusion on who was and wasn’t involved in the case when they decided to question the accused?

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