On Monday morning, a blurry video of a crying woman begging some men not to harm her went viral after a Tamil magazine posted it on its website. The woman is thought to be one of several victims of a four-member gang arrested in Pollachi, 45km from Coimbatore city last fortnight. Since 2013, the men have been befriending women on Facebook and then sexually molesting them, said Pollachi Deputy Superintendent of Police K Jayaraman.

In some cases, the men shot explicit videos of the women and used those to blackmail their victims, police said. The gangs victims included college students, homemakers and working women in Pollachi, said a senior police official, who did not want to be identified.

The political noise around the case intensified on Monday as Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam President MK Stalin alleged that officials of the ruling All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam were trying to protect the men arrested in the case.

Allegations that the AIADMK is pressuring the authorities in the case have gained ground because A Nagaraj, one of the four men arrested for attacking the brother of one of the victims, is a ward secretary of the ruling party’s Amma Peravai recruitment wing in Pollachi. Nagraj was let off on bail in three days.

“Several women, who have been victims in this case, are scared to even file a complaint,” alleged Radhika A, Coimbatore District Secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the women’s wing of Communist Party of India (Marxist). “No one is ready to talk about it.”

Three arrests

The allegations of this sexual harassment and blackmail racket came to light on February 25, when a 19-year-old college student in Pollachi filed a complaint against four persons for sexually harassing her. The next day, three men were arrested. The FIR identifies them as N Satish, 29, N Sabarirajan, 25, and T Vasanthakumar, whose age is not mentioned in the document. On Monday, the Pollachi Magistrate Court extended their custodial remand for 15 days. The main person accused in the case, K Thirunavukkarasu, 26, was arrested on March 5.

Thirunavukarasu has an MBA degree from Hindustan College in Coimbatore and runs a finance company in Pollachi along with Vasanthakumar. Sathish, who works in a retail textile shop, and Sabarirajan, a civil engineer in Pollachi, are their friends.

Jayaraman said that Thirunavukkarasu, had been using social media to contact women since 2013. He also befriended women visiting the finance company. He would invite them to a house he owned in the town, where they would have sex, failing which he would molest or sexually harass them.

On some occasions, the four would team up to record videos of women, Jayaraman said. The men would use the videos to blackmail their victims, demanding sex and money for them.

A scuffle

The case came to the attention of the police on February 24, when the brother of the teenaged college student who has filed the case got into a scuffle with the four men. When the police intervened, the victim’s brother explained that the accused had embarrassing pictures and videos of his sister.

It turned out that on February 12, Sabarirajan, who had befriended the woman on Facebook, allegedly asked her to meet up with him during the lunch break. He said that he wanted to introduce her to some of his friends. When she got there, he asked her to get into a Volkswagen Polo car. The four members of the gang were in the vehicle. In the moving car, Sabarirajan ripped off the girl’s clothes as Satish filmed her with his mobile phone. They tried to blackmail her. When the girl refused to pay the money they demanded, they threatened to post the video on social media. Before they pushed her out of the car, they stole her gold chain.

When the victim’s brother asked her how she had lost her gold chain, she told him about the incident.

Since she was reluctant to file a complaint, the police initially registered a complaint of chain snatching and robbery. Once the videos were retrieved from the mobile phones of the accused, the police registered an FIR under charges of sexual harassment, assault, the use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe and punishment for violation of privacy.

An assault

On February 26, the day after the case was filed, the victim’s brother was assaulted by four men, including AIADMK functionary Nagaraj, who is also known as “Bar” Nagaraj. The police registered a First Information Report on the same day on charges of intimidating the victim’s brother, uttering obscenities and voluntarily causing hurt using dangerous weapons.

Nagaraj’s involvement has raised hackles of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. “Nagraj was deliberately not charged with sexual assault because of his affiliation with the AIADMK,” alleged Radhika A, the association’s Coimbatore District Secretary.

The association has decided to file a writ petition in a couple of days in the Madras High Court seeking to have the investigation transferred to the Central Investigation Department of the Crime Branch.

Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu on Monday alleged that a relative of Pollachi MLA and Deputy Speaker V Jayaraman was also involved in the case. The MLA immediately held a press meet and denied all the allegations. He told the media that he has written to the Coimbatore Superintendent of Police R Pandiarajan asking him to take severe action against those involved. Pandiarajan told Scroll.in that the accused in the case had no links to any political parties.

No complaints

After examining the videos recovered from the mobile phone, the police suspect, that the number of victims could be much higher. “The accused have deleted several videos,” the Deputy Superintendent of Police told Scroll.in, without corroborating the number of victims. “We have sent the phones to the forensic department to be retrieved and later investigate. Several women including college students and married women have been victims of this gang. We still do not know the exact number.”

The challenge in this case, he said, is that no one has come forward to register a complaint against the men, even though the police issued a public notice on February 24 asking the victims to come forward. The police promised to protect their identities.

On Tuesday, the case was transferred to the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department.