The Madras High Court has ordered the Tamil Nadu government to pay Rs 25 lakh to a woman whose name was revealed twice by the government in connection with the Pollachi sexual assault case. While Coimbatore Superintendent of Police SP Pandiarajan had mentioned her name during a press meet, Tamil Nadu Home Secretary Niranjan Mardi revealed it in an order transferring the case to the CBI.
The high court's Madurai bench directed disciplinary action against the official concerned, and ruled that the order be withdrawn in favour of a new one. "There should be soul searching by everybody concerned here," the bench comprising N Kirubakaran and SS Sundar said.
Eight men were arrested - four of them under the Goondas Act - after a woman student from Pollachi complained of sexual abuse, blackmail and extortion. Police said the accused would befriend women on social media, and after taking them to hotels or on long drives, sexually assault them. The victims would then be blackmailed into performing sexual favours or giving money through photographs and videos of their assault.
Initially, police said that around 60 women were targeted in the racket allegedly running over the last seven years.
The court accused the police of releasing the videos to the public, and ruled that sharing them would be seen as an offence. It also directed the centre and the Internet Service Providers Association of India to "prohibit the circulation of the scandalous videos", giving them a period of three weeks to respond to the notice.
"We want an artificial intelligence-based system that automatically rejects videos of heinous crimes, including sexual abuse, to be put in place on social media. As far as the survivor's name is concerned, it is sad that even IAS and IPS officers violated the law as well as the Supreme Court's order," N Senthilkumar, counsel for the petitioner, told NDTV.
The court also directed the centre and the state to submit a status report on its 2012 order to set up a "One Stop Centre" for dealing with rape cases and counselling of survivors.
The issue has already turned into a huge political controversy in Tamil Nadu. "This is a blatant violation and a tacit threat to women to not report. The ruling dispensation continues its drama to protect perpetrators," DMK chief MK Stalin said.
"Why is the government silent? You've prevented the women from complaining," asked Makkal Needhi Maiam founder Kamal Haasan, who had first flagged the issue.
Only one woman has filed a complaint until now, and the CBI is yet to take over the probe from the CB-CID. Chief Minister E Palaniswamy hasn't commented on the matter either, although his party - the AIADMK - has expelled a youth wing leader who allegedly threatened the complainant's brother.