A khaki sisterhood’s hand in justice

A 13-year-old was forced into prostitution by her relatives. In less than 3 months, she was raped by over 10 men including a city police inspector and a politician. Eight were sentenced to life in prison, and 14 were given 20 years rigorous imprisonment by a special court recently, thanks to women police officers in the city, who worked in tandem to ensure justice for the child and are still enabling her recovery. DT Next reports.
A khaki sisterhood’s hand in justice

CHENNAI: In September and October 2020, when the whole world was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, a 13-year-old in Chennai was living every child’s and parents’ worst nightmare, because of the most vicious and heinous criminals — sexual predators.

The minor girl was caught up in a cocktail of social evils. Poverty forced her mother to send her daughter with a cousin, who promised ‘education and good care’ for her daughter.

The cousin, Shahidha Banu, was a sex worker who had been forced into sex trade as a minor and later married to a pimp, Madhan Kumar. “It was more a marriage of convenience as Madhan wanted to take advantage of Shahida and her clients to make more money,” according to a police officer.

When Shahidha brought the minor girl home, Madhan saw an opportunity and spread the word among his clientele. A cop, who was part of the investigations, said that there’s a demand among the ‘rich and well-off’ for virgins and young girls.

Women officers come together

A sudden visit by the girl’s mother, who insisted on meeting her daughter, led her to become suspicious and set the ball rolling.

The case was eventually taken up by the All Women Police Station (AWPS) in Washermanpet. “At that point, we did not fathom the extent of abuse undergone by the child and the involvement of one of our own. In Pocso complaints, 95% of the time, the abuser is a family member or a known person,” said a policewoman.

However, this case was like a house of horrors. Each time the child spoke, it unveiled the trauma of sexual assault by a long list of perpetrators.

This meant more work for the cops, and a major chunk of it was paperwork. It was the combined effort of personnel from several AWPS from the city, which ensured justice in this case, said many policewomen who were part of the case.

While one Inspector would attend the medical examinations, another was put in charge of drafting reports and so on. There were 35 All Women Police Stations in Chennai city before the Commissionerate was trifurcated.

“We were able to work fast because for about a year-and-a-half since mid-2019, all AWPS were brought under the newly formed wing of Crime Against Women And Children (CAWC). This prevented a lot of procedural delays,” said a senior cop.

“A chargesheet that ran for over 600 pages was filed before the court in 85 days. This is important as a chargesheet in Pocso cases has to be filed within 90 days,” said Inspector Priyadarshini, Washermanpet AWPS.

“This case personally affected many of us because this should not have happened to any child,” another official said.

Defense theories in court

SBR Kannan, a chief engineer with Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation (TNCSC), was one of the perpetrators who raped the child; first at an apartment in the city and then at a resort in Kovalam, East Coast Road, according to the prosecution in the court.

Kannan’s counsel argued in court that the case was foisted on his client by ministers in the AIADMK government, which was the ruling party at the time. Kannan alleged that he had refused to allot civil supplies to companies favoured by these ministers, and hence, as revenge, they had conspired to accuse him of sexually assaulting a child.

G Rajendran, a BJP functionary in old Washermanpet area, another perpetrator in the case, raped the child in his office during the first week of September 2020. Rajendran, then informed his friend, C Pugalendhi (Inspector at Ennore police station at the time), who also raped the girl in Rajendran’s office. Both were aware that she was a minor and a victim of trafficking, the prosecution submitted.

Rajendran’s defense was that as a social worker for the past 20 years, he had been donating food to temples and helping many destitute women with legal assistance. He also accused Inspector Priyadarshini of using a case of child rape to even-out her personal enmity against him.

Inspector Pugalendhi too laid a similar defense and argued that as a chief engineer, he had acted on a drug trafficking charge against a junior engineer in Chennai corporation, despite political pressure and several nudges from senior cops to not proceed with the charges. He also named an IPS officer as personally responsible for foisting the case against him.

Court dismisses legal gymnastics

The court, however, dismissed all their allegations and theories, and focused only on the facts and evidence presented by the cops of AWPS.

“It’s a case of legal battle between an innocent 13-year-old uneducated poor girl and a number of legal legends. The unmerited acquittal would encourage wolves in the society on the prowl for easy prey,” the judge observed. Though there were several accused in the case, it was the involvement of a police inspector which caught the public imagination, as it was a case of fence eating the crop. A bit of deliberation was expected on behalf of fellow cops when one of their own is a perpetrator of sexual assault, an assumption that was quickly corrected by a policewoman.

“It’s not like in the movies. There was no hesitation on our part to arrest Inspector Pugalendhi,” she said.

“In fact, when he knew the girl was minor and a victim of trafficking, he should have done his duty,” said another senior cop who oversaw the investigations.

Beyond the call of duty

In addition to their work as cops, these women also came together to ensure the survivor’s rehabilitation. An AWPS Inspector recalled another case in which they had helped a teenager (rescued from an abusive home) to study in a city college through a court direction.

But, unlike in most cases, the child survivor here did not have the necessary support system to get back on her own feet.

The then DCP, H Jayalakshmi, who went out of her way to ensure the child got the necessary counselling and education, described the case as ‘an unforgettably harrowing one’.

“It was a painful case to work on. And the verdict was the result of a teamwork from all women police personnel. Our senior officers reviewed the case regularly too,” she said.

Even after the child was admitted to a rescue home, the DCP checked on her from time to time. “In fact, the last time I spoke to her, I asked her to study well and become an IPS officer. We had assured her that we’ll do our best to get her help,” Jayalakshmi said.

S Megalina Iden, who was serving as an additional deputy commissioner with CAWC, took personal care with the child’s rehabilitation. The child was sent to her trusted gynaecologist for a complete medical check-up. Even today, officials check on the girl’s progress from time to time.

While there are innumerable stories about police officers’ and their proclivity for violence, corruption and rude behaviour, it’s heartening to know their dedication in helping a child survivor.

Experiment worked for a while but not meant to be

Women police personnel who worked together on the ‘Inspector Pugazhendhi’ case and filed a detailed and comprehensive chargesheet on time have to be commended for their diligence and discipline. But it was also possible due to an administration tweak by the Chennai police, which also helped in the prosecution of several Pocso cases.

In June 2019, a separate wing, Crime Against Women and Children (CAWC) was formed in the city police to investigate domestic violence and Pocso cases. For a year-and-a-half, all 35 women police stations in the city were under the wing, which several women cops that DT Next spoke to, referred to as a ‘golden period’.

“The freedom was refreshing and there were not many layers to go through before we register a case unlike in Law and Order,” said a woman police inspector.

In fact, functioning under the CAWC wing helped the Washermanpet AWPS to see the case through, as none of the women cops were used for bandobust duty and other responsibilities during the pandemic. It was a time when cops were doubling up as frontline workers too, but the AWPS personnel were spared from such duties and were focused solely on complaints.

“As it has now emerged, the number of domestic abuse complaints spiked during the lockdown. It only made sense that the police strength was ready to tackle them,” pointed out a senior police officer.

While this ‘special treatment’ did give way to disparaging remarks among the other wings, the AWPS was soon detached from the CAWC and came under the respective Law and Order detail. But this was done more for a practical reason than any hidden agenda, said women police officers.

“To execute arrests and take suspects to the restroom while in custody, you need male cops. And the Law and Order wings were not willing to share their personnel, partly because of the pandemic too. We had wanted to ask them to source strength from the armed reserve, but our stay under CAWC itself was short-lived,” pointed out a woman police officer.

A woman cop claimed that even the chargesheeting rate was high when AWPS was with CAWC. At present, the juvenile aid police unit, anti-child trafficking unit, IUCAW (investigative unit for crime against women), anti-dowry cell are the units under the CAWC wing.

Visit news.dtnext.in to explore our interactive epaper!

Download the DT Next app for more exciting features!

Click here for iOS

Click here for Android

Related Stories

No stories found.
DT next
www.dtnext.in