The air around the Pollachi municipality office reverberated with the voice of students shouting, “Pollachikku thalaikunivu, Pollachikku thalaikunivu. Kaithu sei Kaithu sei, kutravaaliyai kaithu sei!” (‘Shame for Pollachi. Arrest the culprits.’).
Around 1,000 students from various colleges in Pollachi, and some from as far as Coimbatore, assembled in front of the Pollachi Municipality office on Palakkad road, demanding justice in the sexual assault case that has come to light in the town. A day after the sexual assault and extortion case was transferred to the CB-CID and the government of Tamil Nadu contemplated a further transfer to the CBI, the students engaged in a sit-in protest, with a few police officials around them. Occasionally giving rousing cheers to the leaders in the group, they all had one demand – bring to book those involved in sexually assaulting women in Pollachi.
As the district police officers including the SP, DSP, and the junior officers who were handling the case engaged in a meeting with the CB-CID IG and SP in Coimbatore, the students started gathering at the spot around 10 am on Wednesday and the crowd started to swell gradually. By noon, the area was packed with students, both boys and girls, sitting down and raising slogans.
“We need justice. We know that the case has been transferred to the CB-CID, but we feel it is just to postpone it. We need instant justice, that too before elections. All students gathered here are voters and if we don’t get justice, none of us will vote. We will not stop our protest unless we get justice,” a student who did not want to be identified told TNM.
As the number of students steadily increased, the police also called for reinforcements to be put in place. Meanwhile, police officers also tried to engage in dialogue with the students, promising them strict action in the case. The students, visibly shaken because of the sexual assault case, would have none of the words of compromise the police offered them.
“Give it to us in writing, what you just told us, how much ever insignificant that is,” a few student representatives were heard telling the police. However, it did not happen. Instead, the police told the students to grant them ten days’ time and then ask questions directly if no action was taken. The students did not budge for this either.
The police then began discussing amongst themselves as to how to clear the crowd, and hence strike force personnel and water cannon vehicle was brought to the spot. Though at one point, the male students were ready to let go and give in to the request made by the police officers and give them ten days’ time, the women were adamant that they will not move from that spot until the police take concrete action on the culprits.
The action then slowly began. Requesting the shopkeepers across the protest site to down their shutters, the policemen started seeping into the barricaded area in small groups where the students were gathered and conducted isolated identity card-checks on certain students who were spotted as leading the protests. As the other students voiced their disapproval, the police began to use force to clear the crowd.
Around 50 women police personnel were also pressed into service, who along with the policemen manhandled the students. While male students suffered rough pushes and unruly treatment, the female students were dragged by the women police officers which also involved tugging at the students’ dupattas.
“They dragged me and removed my dupatta in front of so many people. If it was their daughter, would they have done this?” asked a woman student, whose dupatta was torn off in the tussle with a police officer.
“Please don’t ask my name or take my picture, I am going to approach a human rights activist for the police manhandling me. I am not going to leave this here. Protesting is my right and I am doing it in a peaceful manner. What right do they (the police) have to push and shove me?” she said.
The students dispersed within 20 minutes and the situation returned to normal. However, the demands of the students for justice in the case continued to linger in the air, long after the crowd was gone.