The horrifying Pollachi sexual assault case has shaken Tamil Nadu. Police suspect that 50-100 young girls could have fallen victim to a gang, which lured them through Facebook. It is also suspected that the gang has been abusing women for the past seven years, unnoticed by the police and public. For seven long years, the 50-odd victims did not, in all probability could not, report the crimes committed against them, until a 19-year-old came forward to do so. This in itself is an indicator of the sheer number of sexual crimes that go unreported in our society—only one in 50 victims get the support to speak up.
The anger is fresh among voters, mostly youngsters. It has not helped that a crime of such magnitude did not resonate among the public and media beyond the borders of Tamil Nadu. The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has also expressed concern over the “lack of attention” given by the national media to this case. It also said that stories from rural areas are not being given due attention by the outlets.
The state capital itself woke up to the issue only after a fortnight. The case has put the ruling AIADMK in an uncomfortable spot. And with the general elections and bypolls to 18 Assembly constituencies just around the corner, opposition parties see the case as a political opportunity. But in a swift and smart move, the Tamil Nadu government has decided to request the CBI to take over the case, after police detained four accused under the Goondas Act.
Several questions remain in the case, details of which have been coming in a dribble. Are there any more influential accused whose names have not come up yet? Do they have political support? Most importantly, will this case be taken to its logical conclusion? Student protests are happening across Tamil Nadu. But at this point, one cannot assess the electoral impact. However, the message is clear: Governments might come and go, but it takes concrete social efforts to empower the abused to speak up.