The Tamil Nadu government’s decision to transfer the ‘Pollachi sexual abuse case’ to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) gives the case rightful priority, and the agency must swiftly unravel the sexual assault and blackmail racket that has victimised a number of young women. The case had its origins in a complaint of sexual harassment, assault and robbery in a town in Coimbatore district. While the arrest of the accused was made in end-February, the case created a storm early this week when a leaked video found its way into the public sphere. Sourced from the phones of those who were arrested, it had a woman piteously pleading with her abusers to leave her alone. In fact, what has been uncovered so far might be the mere tip of the iceberg, as initial investigation has indicated that the scale of the operations of the four young men in Pollachi might be much larger than is obvious now. Among the accused was a member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (who has since been removed from the party’s membership), and Opposition parties allege that the case involves those much higher in the State’s ruling party leadership.
The public outrage that ensued had the government first ordering that the case be transferred to the Crime Branch-CID, and then in just a day, to the CBI. Given the timing, with the Lok Sabha polls and critical Assembly by-elections around the corner, the political glow on the case is likely to be accentuated. But it is important that even as the investigation proceeds to nail the guilty and establish the scale of the abuse and blackmail crimes, the women’s identity and their privacy be strictly protected. The State Women’s Commission has promised that it will conduct an investigation into the matter, providing telephone numbers that victims can call to lodge complaints with complete confidentiality. The National Commission for Women has expressed serious concern over the safety of women in Tamil Nadu. In a letter to the State DGP, its Chairperson has asked that appropriate action be taken, and sought an action taken report. For its part, the government cannot wash its hands of the matter with the transfer of the case to the CBI. It must allow and assist in a free and fair probe into the incidents to bring justice to the victims, and to ensure their dignity and anonymity are maintained. In this election season, the ruling and Opposition parties must summon their political morality by articulating the gravity of the crime and refraining from trying to make political capital out of this heinous crime. Sexual assault and blackmail are dark crimes — the guilty must be brought to book. And the women and their families must be assured of justice and confidentiality.