On February 12 this year, Priya (name changed), a 19-year-old college student in Pollachi, was called by her acquaintance, Sabarirajan, who told her that he wanted to discuss something important with her alone. Sabarirajan, who also goes by the name Riswandh, asked Priya to meet him at a bus stop in Pollachi, and when Priya reached there in the afternoon, Sabarirajan was standing near a car along with his friend Thirunavukkarasu, another acquaintance of Priya. The duo asked her to get into the car with them, and said they would talk on the way. While Thirunavukkarasu started the car, Sabarirajan was sitting in the back seat with Priya. And suddenly, two more men – Sathish and Vasanthkumar – got in. The four of them forcefully disrobed Priya and shot a video, and snatched a gold chain she was wearing. They threatened her that if she did not do as they said, and provide them with sexual favours and money when they demanded it, they would upload the video on the internet. When she screamed and cried, they left her in the middle of the road and drove away.
Upset and scared, Priya did not reveal the incident to her family. But when the men blackmailed her and tried to extort money from her multiple times, Priya decided to take her family into confidence.
Her brother Subhash (name changed) then tracked down Thirunavukkarasu and Sabarirajan, beat them up, and unearthed what is perhaps an elaborate and scary sexual violence and extortion racket. Subhash and his friends got hold of Thirunavukkarasu and Sabarirajan’s cell phones, which contained videos of at least three other women that the men may have blackmailed. The family submitted this to the Pollachi police, along with a complaint of sexual harassment and robbery.
The police have filed an FIR on February 24 against Sabarirajan, Thirunavukkarasu, Sathish and Vasanthkumar under sections 354A (sexual harassment), 354B (assault or use of criminal force against woman with intent to disrobe), and 394 (robbery) of the IPC; section 66E of the IT Act (violation of privacy); and section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Women Act (sexual harassment).
The rape and extortion racket
Priya’s ordeal and the phones collected from the four accused has revealed a massive racket run by the four men, and allegedly several other men – and the police is looking into who the perpetrators of these crimes are. They have asked other victims to come forward with their experiences with these men.
TNM has learned some details of the modus operandi of these men was. One of them – usually Sabarirajan alias Riswandh – would lure women to a secluded house or hotel, and either force himself on them or convince them to have sex.
All the while, his accomplices – hidden from view – would shoot the act on a camera.
If it was a sexual assault, one of the accomplices would barge in and pretend to be a saviour, while the other men continued to shoot the video. At least one such video of a young woman who was sexually assaulted by Riswandh (alias Sabarirajan) has been released by a Tamil magazine. TNM will not share the video, or other videos that are circulating.
In the videos that the men have shot, the young women can be heard naming Riswandh (alias Sabarirajan) multiple times. In one of these videos, Thirunavukkarasu can be clearly seen.
In another video, Sathish can be seen in a sexual act, and he has left the door open for his friends to shoot the act.
In another video, Riswandh shoots a woman and continuously asks her whether she would meet him the next day. The police say such videos were used to blackmail for money or sexual favours.
If the sex was consensual, the men would threaten to upload the videos on the internet or circulate them through WhatsApp, unless the women gave them sexual favours, along with money and other valuables. In all the videos, it is clear that the door of the room was kept open so other members of the gang could take pictures and shoot videos.
How many victims?
The lawyer of the survivor told TNM that they have recovered three videos from the cell phones they seized from two of the men. While there are media reports and estimates that there are anywhere between 50 and 200 victims of this racket, there is no confirmation of any such number so far. However, at least six women are there in the videos that have leaked now, only Forensic department can recover the rest.
In an audio message that one of the accused Thirunavukkarasu released, he says that a false case has been foisted on him – but also suggests that ‘99 other women’ were willing participants.
The case of assault of victim’s brother
Priya and her family filed a complaint and the police registered an FIR on February 24, 2019. On February 25, Subhash was assaulted by four men – allegedly friends of Thirunavukkarasu and Sabarirajan. Senthil, Babu, Mani and Vasanthkumar beat up Subhash for filing a complaint against Thirunavukkarasu, and allegedly threatened that if anything were to happen to these men, Subhash will not be alive.
An FIR was registered by the Pollachi police in this case, under section 341, 294(b), 323, 324, and 506(2) of the IPC.
The Pollachi police added the name of a fifth person – ‘Bar’ Nagaraj, an AIADMK functionary who has now been expelled by the party – in the FIR.
All five men are now out on bail.
Who are the four accused
Sabarirajan alias Riswandh is a 25-year-old civil engineer in Pollachi. Thirunavukkarasu is a 26-year-old financier. Vasanthakumar works for Thirunavukkarasu to collect money from clients. Sathish is the owner of a readymade garments shop in Pollachi.
Politics over sexual violence
While the case was registered in late February, and TNM reported about the arrests on February 27, the incident has become politicised in the last few days.
The AIADMK has been criticised for the alleged involvement of Nagaraj in the saga, with some media reports suggesting that the rot runs higher up in the party. Tamil Magazine Nakkheeran’s editor Nakkheeran Gopal, in a video, alleged the involvement of Tamil Nadu Deputy Speaker Pollachi Jayaraman’s sons in the sexual abuse and extortion racket. However, Nakkheeran has not given any evidence of their involvement, or how they are allegedly linked to the accused in the case.
While Jayaraman himself has denied allegations, the survivor, Priya, and her brother Subhash have released statements where they said that it was Jayaraman who in fact has supported them from the beginning. In an audio statement, Priya said that her family approached Jayaraman through a family friend, and he has been helpful with filing the complaint and taking the case forward.
Subhash meanwhile released a video statement where his face is not visible, where he has linked the politicisation of the case with the announcement of Lok Sabha election dates.
Meanwhile, opposition party DMK held a rally in Pollachi on Tuesday demanding action against the accused. Speaking at the rally, DMK MP Kanimozhi said, “Many of them are saying we are politicising the issue. Nobody wants to politicise this. But if the government acts only after the matter becomes politicised, then what else can be done?”
Revealing identity of victim, circulating videos
While the survivor and her family have maintained that the police is helping them in the case, Pollachi Superintendent of Police Pandiarajan revealed the survivor’s name in a press meet, against every law to protect the identity of the victim.
“The name of the survivor in this case was revealed only to silence the other women and prevent them from coming out in the open and complaining,” Kanimozhi alleged at the DMK rally on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, several videos of victims are doing the rounds on WhatsApp, with no consideration for the victims’ consent or mental health. These videos were allegedly on the phones seized from the four accused – two of the phones were retrieved by the survivor’s brother while the other two were seized by the police.