7 years after TN teen was raped and dumped in a well, only one convicted

The judgement also ordered that as per section 23 of the POCSO Act, the media shall not name the minor victim, address, or her family details, as well as the names of the accused address or family details.
Image for Representation
Image for Representation

TW: Mention of graphic details, sexual assault

This story will not mention the names of the one convict and the three persons acquitted in the case because the Ariyalur Fast Track Mahila court has ordered the media not to name those who were arraigned as accused.

Seven years after the brutal rape and murder of a 16-year-old Dalit girl in Ariyalur, the Fast Track Mahila court in the district convicted only one of the four persons arraigned as accused in the case. On April 12, 2024, Judge D Selvam convicted A1 (31)—a man from the Vanniyar community (a dominant caste group classified as Most Backward Class in Tamil Nadu), for the rape and murder of the girl. The court, however, acquitted three others (also Vanniyars) who were named as accused in the case, citing lack of evidence. The case was marked by several controversies, including delay in registering a First Information Report (FIR), berating the family, and now a judgement that has ordered the media not to disclose the name of the convicted person and three other acquitted persons. However, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act does not bar media from naming accused/convicts in the case if they are major and unrelated to the victim.

Speaking to TNM, the family of the victim expressed their unhappiness with the investigation by the Tamil Nadu state police and with the judgement that acquitted three people from the case. They also said they would appeal the ruling in the Madras High Court.

The judge found A1 guilty and sentenced him for the offences under sections 364 (kidnapping or abducting to murder), 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), section 10 (punishment for aggravated sexual assault) of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and section 3(1)(w)(i) of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Section 3 deals with punishments for offences and atrocities committed against SC/ST individuals.

The 35-year-old A2, charged with being involved in the rape and murder; A3 (33 years) and A4 (34 years) who were booked for conspiring to the crime were acquitted by the court stating that there was not enough proof tying them to the crime.

A1 has been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, along with 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and 16 years of simple imprisonment. The period of imprisonment will run concurrently. He has also been charged a total fine of Rs 52,000, and in case he defaults on the payment, he would have to undergo 4 years and 8 months of simple imprisonment.

The judgement also ordered that as per section 23 of the POCSO Act, the media shall not name the minor victim, address, or her family details, as well as the names of the accused address or family details. However, section 23 of the Act does not stop the media from naming the accused. 

Reacting to the judgement, Savitri (name changed), the sister of the victim told TNM, “We are unhappy with the judgement and think that it is unjust. It's upsetting that the three others who were involved in the crime as per A1’s statement, are roaming free in our streets. From the beginning, we have been accusing the police of negligence and we have been demanding a CB-CID probe. Now the judgement proves that the police failed to gather evidence to convict the other three men.”

Chinnadurai, the district coordinator from Ariyalur for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who has been supporting the victim’s family, added that the villagers including the family don't believe that the caste killing of the minor was a one-man-job. “It was an elaborate plan and therefore, the family’s fight for justice won’t end here,” he said. 

Series of events

In December 2016, 16-year-old Vandhana (name changed) from the Paraiyar community (classified as Scheduled Caste) went missing. She had quit school and was employed with a road contractor at the time. Her family reported to the Irumbulikurichi police that she was kidnapped. However, the family alleged that their complaint was not accepted on the same day and that they were asked to return the next day. Savitri had told TNM back in 2018 that the police asked them if they [the police] had no other job and questioned why they went to file a complaint at 9 pm.

The family, in their complaint, mentioned that they received a call from a person claiming that Vandana was under his custody. However, this was A1, and he admitted that later to the police.

The next day, the family went again with a complaint, and the police filed a ‘missing persons’ case instead of a ‘kidnapping’ case, violating section 361 of the IPC, according to which a minor taken away without the consent of her guardian amounts to kidnap. It was not the only violation committed by the police. According to the POCSO Act, when police receive information of a possible commission of an offence, they should immediately take steps to protect the child within the first 24 hours. Furthermore, the police inspector had also refused to record the complaint of the family, stating that Vandana was kidnapped and instead obtained her mother’s signature on blank papers.

According to the mother, the police had also gone to the extent of shaming her by asking, “Look at how you have brought her up. The child has gone rogue, and you are sitting at home, you are coming here. Are you a woman?"

The police also claimed that this was an instance of a ‘love affair’ and that Vandana would have ‘eloped’ with A1. However, it is to be noted that for cases involving minors,  the reason is inconsequential.

A few days later, Vandana’s family found through a neighbour that A1 was involved in her kidnap. Although the family reported it to the police, the police failed to call A1 in for an inquiry and said that they had security duty at a temple festival. They had also asked Vandana’s mother not to come to the police station for the next three days. The FIR was registered only five days after the police were informed of Vandana going missing. A1 called in for an inquiry and was subsequently let go. He then absconded. 

But, on January 12, A1 was admitted to a hospital in Kuvagam village after he allegedly attempted to die by suicide. The Kuvagam police registered a case, and A1, in his statement, said that he attempted to die because he was being traced in relation to Vandana’s murder. But the Kuvagam police didn’t inform the Irumbulikurichi police.

Two days later, on January 14, 2017, A1 surrendered to the Irumbulikurichi police, and on the same day, Vandana’s mortal remains were recovered from a well in Keelamaligai village. A1 had reportedly admitted to police that he had kidnapped Vandana, sexually assaulted and murdered her with the help of his cousin A2, and disposed of the body in a well. Her family was informed, and her body was recovered from the well. 

Her body was found in a well, naked, her hands tied behind her back and tied to a rock. Her body was in an advanced state of decomposition and infested with maggots. According to the autopsy report, her skin was severely decomposed, as well as her internal organs. Her body was sent to the Ariyalur Government Hospital for post-mortem and an autopsy was performed without consent from her family, the victim’s mother had earlier told TNM.

The brutal caste crime

After A1 was arrested and his statement recorded, it became clear that it was a case of caste crime. According to A1, Vandana was pregnant with his child, and he had plotted to kill her because he was unwilling to marry a Dalit girl. Vandana’s mother claimed that the police had informed her of the pregnancy by taunting her for “not bringing up the girl correctly.” The victim’s mother told TNM that the DSP came to their house, ridiculed them and threatened to cremate the body as an orphan if they did not receive it.

The post-mortem report of Vandana did not mention the pregnancy, and the police had claimed that an autopsy was not performed on the foetus since it was not fully formed. But Vandana’s family told TNM that she hadn’t gotten her period in three months, which meant she was at least two months pregnant, making a DNA test possible.

The police also concluded that Vandana had died on December 26, the day she went missing since the post-mortem reports concluded that she had died two weeks before the body was found based on the extent of the body’s decomposition. But Vandana’s family and activists had earlier told TNM that the police were manipulating the date to ensure that their lapses were covered. 

Four persons were arrested by the police—A1 and his three cousins. While A1 and A2 were booked under the POCSO Act along with other relevant sections for kidnap and murder, the other two were booked only for conspiring to dispose of the body. Lawyers also allege that they were not booked for committing a sexual assault as a gang but only booked for aggravated penetrative sexual assault.

Although the brutal caste crime had the support of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), who were then the opposition, and MK Stalin had then promised to fight for a CB-CID probe, the trial began only in 2019.

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