Activists say that several of his victims are unwilling to come forward, as they fear a social backlash.

TN astrologer accused of rape serial sexual misconduct Victims scared to report
news Crime Thursday, March 22, 2018 - 18:11

On March 6, residents of the village of KR Thoppur in Salem rushed to the local astrologer's house to see why there was a commotion in the area. A man from Namakkal district, flanked by his wife and daughter, was allegedly assaulting the astrologer even as villagers watched on. And when asked what the problem was, the furious father reportedly said that the 35-year-old astrologer named Panneerselvam had sexually assaulted his daughter under the pretense of removing her 'dosham' (sins.)

Media reports suggest that the woman was taken to the puja room on the top floor of the astrologer's residence and raped. Half an hour after he took her upstairs, Panneerselvam came down and informed the parents that she needs to be brought again after 10 days.

Over two weeks after the incident, on March 20, Panneerselvam was arrested. Except, it was not for the alleged sexual assault of the woman from Namakkal. The victim reportedly left without filing a complaint, but when word of this incident reached activists in the district, they began digging deeper and found several skeletons in this astrologer's proverbial closet.

Among the organisations that sent a fact finding team to the village was the Puratchigara Vidiyal Pengal Maiyam which works for women’s empowerment.

"When we got to the village, we were shocked to hear that this was not the first time this astrologer had sexually assaulted women here. His job was merely an excuse to get close to the women," says advocate Dhamayanthi, the state organiser of the women's group.

"We got information about the rape of the Namakkal woman only last week. When we enquired with families there about the astrologer, at least seven women came up and told us that he had sexually assaulted them," she adds.

However, none of them were willing to file complaints out of fear that they will face a backlash.

"What this man would do is lure these women saying that they or their family members have a ‘dosham’ and then take the woman away to the puja room. Then, he sexually assaults them and when they resist, he threatens to place a curse on them. He even tries to convince them that his sexual gestures are to remove the dosham," says Dhamayanthi.

Angered by police inaction over the lack of a 'complaint' in the matter, the women's group then protested at the village and outside the district Superintendent of Police's office.

Following this, the police came to the KR Thoppur, where a 34-year-old woman came forward with a complaint of sexual harassment.  "She apparently went to him because her family situation was not good. He told her he will remove her ‘dosham’ and behaved inappropriately. When she said she will complain to her husband, he threatened to kill her," says an investigating official.

An FIR was filed against the astrologer under IPC sections 294 and 503 on March 21 for sexual assault and criminal intimidation. But what about the other cases?

"We can't do anything without an actual complaint," says the investigating official. "During the inquiry he has not admitted to sexually assaulting any other women," he adds.

Activists however allege that efforts are underway to protect the astrologer. "He has links to the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and there has been an exchange of money. So the police don't want to probe the matter further," says Dhamayanthi.

While the police deny the allegations, activists say they will pursue the case to its logical conclusion.

Dhamayanthi says, "We are in talks with the other victims in the village and are going to convince them to file a case. We can't let this man get away with a small punishment. After this case, these men should fear harassing women in the name of god."

 

 

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.