Where Are the Viral Hashtags and Candlelight Vigils for the Survivors of Pollachi Sex Abuse Case?

Politics

Where Are the Viral Hashtags and Candlelight Vigils for the Survivors of Pollachi Sex Abuse Case?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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or the last month or so, post the February 14 Pulwama attack, the nation has been in an uproar. Discussion panels have been simmering with opinions playing serve and volley. Everyone’s anger has been on the boil.

A few days later, I got a call from a cub reporter of a national daily, asking me what I thought of the Surf Excel Holi ad as a member of the advertising fraternity. When I told her that I wasn’t aware of it, being the social media pariah that I am, I was promptly told to look up the ad that had sent the Twitterati into a tizzy. Even Baba Ramdev had uncoiled from his contortions, to lend his voice to this one.

This was one India.

Elsewhere around the same time, in a little-known portion of southern India, a case of rampant sex abuse was unfolding. On March 13, over 1,000 college students across the state of Tamil Nadu had come out in support of a 19-year-old victim of assault and harassment, who had been instrumental in blowing the cover off four serial sexual offenders.

This is the other India. Mostly running on mute.

For the people of Tamil Nadu, Pollachi is real and it is outrageous that four men, all in their 20s, have methodically abused multiple women in the last two years.

This India perpetually succumbs to a noiseless din, that the other India never hears. This, lesser India could be screaming itself hoarse as a defenceless nun from Kerala, who was raped 13 times, then ostracised for naming the “holy” perpetrator. Or as a 29-year-old law student from a labourer’s family in the same state, who was raped, stabbed 30 times and given alcohol when she asked for water, just before she died.

Pollachi, Kottayam, Perumbavoor, Kathua, Unnao – small little geographical dots on our maps; of places we never go to, of people who do not fall in our radar.

Even if I were to name each of these victims, like the “official handlers” of these cases already have, it would make little difference. They are non-entities when compared with the meta tags and hashtags we live for. Like say, the frenzy over Padmaavat, the irrepressible zeal for the #DeepVeer nuptials, or the Ambani wedding extravaganza. These are top-of-mind because they are fed to us in the manner.

The Pollachi-India though, isn’t the India that the rest of us are familiar with.

For the people of Tamil Nadu, Pollachi is real and it is outrageous that four men, all in their 20s, have methodically abused multiple women in the last two years. If initial findings are to be believed, the assaulters have substantial political muscle to support them. For the average citizen of the state, this apathy toward women by those in power, is worth a fight. As the 300 government college students in Chennai made clear again last week, when they stayed put even as a fellow student was slapped by a superintendent of police, on camera, for refusing to abandon the protest.

What is now being speculated as a scandal of unbelievable proportions, wouldn’t have been unearthed if the 19-year-old survivor hadn’t filed a police complaint on February 24. According to the police, the victim befriended Sabarirajan – one of the accused – on social media, he asked her to skip class on February 12 and persuaded her to go sightseeing with him in his car. When she entered the car, she found his friends inside. The gang sexually assaulted her, filmed the assault, and later used the video to blackmail her. They also stole her gold jewellery before dropping her off. Further investigation revealed that this one case was just the tip of the iceberg. The gang had applied the same modus operandi on several women; ensnaring them on social media, then assaulting them in moving vehicles, secluded farm houses and hotels, taping the assault and extorting them later for money and more sexual favours.

So far, a total of six videos of different victims have surfaced. In the meantime, the government of Tamil Nadu has handed the case over to the CBI, as expected. This was done in the rape cases in Kathua, Unnao, and Jisha.

pollachi

India may live and suffer in her villages, but the global Indian does not.

Image Credits: Getty Images

The last among these cases had incidentally shaken the state of Kerala during yet another election period – the legislative elections of May 2016. This case of the law student, who was found murdered in April that year, at her home near a canal in Perumbavoor in Ernakulam, was bone-chillingly sinister. The police found the body mutilated and disturbingly sliced. Forensics later concluded that the injuries indicated violence and torture. This crime gained momentum and focus from political parties only because elections were around the corner.

While the Pollachi case reveals the apathy of the state, the Jisha case exposed the apathy of an entire village. The whole neighbourhood blamed the victim’s mother and sister and their “bad character” for her gruesome end.

The gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakarwal girl in Kathua too was the result of apathy toward a minority nomad community. She bore the brunt of men who wanted to “teach a lesson” to her community and intimidate them into moving out of the area. Eight men who thought nothing of abducting, raping, and then murdering a little girl – four lawmen, one temple priest, his son who claimed to be a juvenile at 19, and a nephew. These men inspired support and protests on their arrests, from two ministers in power, no less.

This case, which became the eye of the storm three months too late to begin with, has already fizzled out within the year. Much like the Unnao case from last year, where a 17-year-old girl was allegedly raped by Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh. The Unnao survivor’s uncle, who had first initiated the campaign accusing the BJP MLA of the rape of his niece and the death of his elder brother, was arrested on November 21, 2018 in an 18-year-old gun-firing case.

The nation though, has moved on. To such pertinent issues as to how does the Yogi of Uttar Pradesh maintain his imperceptible mane. This inspires an entire capsule during prime time of a news channel with elaborate soundbytes from the Yogi’s naai.

This is that other India. The India unperturbed by the brutalisation of women in  Pollachi/Perumbavoor/Kottayam/Kathua/Unnao. The voice of despair of this India is just white noise for the other India. The “general” populace, the folks on social media, don’t hear of this India.

India may live and suffer in her villages, but the global Indian does not. Who cares that the videos of assault victims are doing the rounds on WhatsApp, or that political mileage is being garnered in the election month, or that Coimbatore’s Superintendent of Police went right ahead and named the sole complainant in the case, at a press meet, further deterring other survivors from coming forth with their stories?

The other India will not bat an eyelid or shed a perfunctory tear over this. The other India will not bother with hashtags or candlelight vigils. These two Indias shall not cross paths.

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