100 girl children have been sexually abused over three years at a remote village called in Madurai district.
Their breasts have been pressed, genitals touched inappropriately and obscene photos taken, all in a Government school.
And the accused- none other than the headmaster of the institution himself.
These are excerpts from a case-brief that IPS officer Disha Mittal was given within four months of her joining as the Deputy Superintendent of Police in Sivaganga District in 2012.
The young officer had got her first posting only in November 2011, when the Madras High Court ordered for a special investigating team 'led by a gender sensitive police officer not below the rank of DSP' to take over this shocking case from rural Tamil Nadu.
"It was the first case that I was handling as an investigating officer and a terrible crime at that," recounts Disha Mittal, who currently serves as the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Tirupur city. "I was just learning the ropes when the case was handed over to me," she explains to The News Minute in an exclusive interview.
After five months of rigorous investigations, the DCP was ready with the final chargesheet. And on September 19, 2017, six years after the first mother approached the police over her daughter’s exploitation, a special court in Madurai sentenced S Arockiasamy to 55 years imprisonment. He was convicted for sexually abusing 20 girl students, including Dalit children. He was also ordered to pay a fine of Rs 12,32,500.
Asking children about sexual abuse
"In a crime of this scale, there was no time to waste as it involved children traumatised by sexual exploitation," says the IPS officer. "They were highly affected by these acts and were living in fear," she adds.
According to a report submitted by a fact-finding team in 2011, the headmaster 'used to call the girl children to his room for washing his tiffin box and used to make them to sit on his lap after unzipping his pants. He used to insert his hand inside the dress of the children in the name of forecasting their future. The girl children were made to clean his room. He used to take pictures in his cell phone in different angles when they bend their bodies while at work'. Arockiasamy was suspended, but the investigating official was left with the task of making the affected children give statements on the crime.
"I visited the survivors first with social workers at their school. I would just observe what was happening and tried to befriend them," she says. But soon it became clear that the venue of abuse could not be converted into an area of comfort. "We decided that the children had to be taken somewhere else," she adds.
And that is how, close to 30 children from this village were taken on a bus accompanied by social workers and police to an amusement park in Madurai. The girls were entertained all day, till they began to trust the investigating official and lower their guards.
"They were relaxed and in a friendly mood. That is how we managed to get their statements," explains the IPS officer.
A well-planned crime
As investigations proceeded, officials began to notice a pattern amongst the survivors of abuse. They were all girls who were extremely vulnerable - socially, economically or emotionally.
"Arockiasamy had chosen his prey very carefully," explains the DCP. The children in the school mostly belonged to families that consisted of agricultural coolies. They were the first generation from their families to receive any kind of formal education. "So, when the abuse began they were very scared that their parents will remove them from school. These were children who wanted to study. This was their only chance to lead a better life," she adds. To make matters worse, the headmaster would threaten to fail them in examinations if they did not agree to satisfy his lust.
The second set of girls that were abused belonged to the Dalit community. According to the fact-finding report, "In this case, admittedly, number of school children belonged to SC community were sexually exploited by the headmaster of the school. Admittedly, the complaints of the children and their parents if found proved, would attract penalty under Section 3(1)(xi) and (xii) of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989." This was also the allegation that made it necessary for an officer not below the rank of the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) to handle the case.
"The headmaster used the 'social stigma' associated with sexual abuse to further oppress the students from oppressed castes," explains the officer.
The third set of girls were students who did not have a supportive parental figure and were emotionally vulnerable. "He targeted girls who did not have anyone to go back and complain to about the abuse," says the IPS officer. One student was in fact abused even as her blind grandmother remained seated in the room.
A step ahead
It took five months to file the chargesheet and hundreds of witnesses had given their statements.
"Even after we finished the investigation, we were following up on it at different levels," says the officer. "We are in fact glad that in a case with so much documentation, the verdict has come out in six years. This not only encourages the police department but it will also act as a deterrent for anyone who attempts to misuse authority to abuse children," she adds.
But which aspect of the case, continues to leave her shocked?
"The teachers," says the officer. "They knew what was happening and remained quiet. They let these students suffer.”