It has been 11 years since Mageshwari*, who was allegedly abducted by the police and subjected to torture and gang-rape, had a miscarriage. After surviving it, she ran away to a different town to start a new life.
Mageshwari* (name changed to protect her identity), aged 31, is one of the four Irular (categorised as Scheduled Tribes) women who were allegedly gang raped by five policemen of the Thirukoilur police station in Tamil Nadu in 2011. The rape case is being heard by the Villupuram SC-ST Special Court, this November.
The Quint spoke to the survivors and activists who have been relentlessly fighting for justice.
‘Why Is No One Believing Our Truth?'
In November 2011, the Thirukoilur police took nine Irular men, who lived near Thenpennai river bank in Kallakurichi district, under custody, accusing them of theft. They were taken to the police station and allegedly tortured brutally.
Later, a five-member police team, led by the then inspector allegedly barged into the houses of the men, forcibly took four women to the woods, and gang-raped them.
The women, belonging to the same family, were between the age group of 18 to 20 at the time of the alleged assault.
Mageswari told The Quint, “When I pleaded with the policemen to leave me, they didn’t relent. This cruelty happened to us right after we saw our husbands and brothers being brutally assaulted. This is our truth, which we have been speaking about, but nobody is believing us.”
‘So, the Rich Deserve Justice and the Poor Don’t?'
Professor Kalyani and PV Ramesh of Tribal Irular Protection of Rights Organisation helped the women seek legal recourse and filed a petition in 2012 in the Madras High Court, seeking a probe by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). They suspected the police would be biased and might not conduct the probe against their peers, fairly. But the court dismissed the petition and ordered a probe by a special officer of the Additional Superintendent of Police rank.
None of the policemen were arrested in connection with the 2011 rape case. It was only after an order on 15 November 2022 from the SC/ST Special Court in Villupuram, that the police inspector was arrested and remanded to judicial custody.
The inspector allegedly absconded for a brief period and his bail pleas were rejected by the lower court. The survivors suspect that the delay in the trial has been benefiting the accused and alleged some documents needed for the trial have gone missing from the case file.
‘Don’t Want Compensation. Need Justice.'
An activist close to the women told The Quint that in the past, the women have been subjected to harassment at workplaces as the employers were aware of the incident. The women were "shamed ruthlessly," the activist alleged.
“For the first few years, everyone treated us poorly. We were referred to us as ‘those women who got raped.’ Recently I moved to another town because I could no longer live in the same house where I was tortured and raped.”Mageshwari*, Rape Survivor
Mageshwari’s sister-in-law Lali* (name changed to protect her identity), who was also allegedly gang-raped is now living with her. Lali has separated from her husband and has to support four children.
“There are hardly few job options for people like us. We earn at most Rs 200 a day which we share among ourselves. Everyday we ask ourselves what we did to deserve this life-long punishment. What hurts the most is that those who hurt us have not been punished,” she lamented.
Mageshwari added that while making ends meet is only a daily struggle, the money spent on making visits to the police station and courtroom has taken a huge toll on them.
"My child is sick for the past three weeks. And I am spending whatever little money we have to go to the court. Our case is getting adjourned regularly and I don't have enough money for my own child and daily meals," she said.
The survivors told The Quint that they fear for the lives of their children.
"My daughter walks to school for two kilometres. I remind her every single day, to be careful, not to talk to strangers and to always come home straight after school. This has been our daily routine for 11 years," she added.
On 23 December 2021, the State Human Rights Commission ordered the State government to provide a compensation of Rs 75 lakh to the 15 victims of the alleged police brutality.
A survivor told The Quint, "When this happened to us, we didn't know we had rights. We were weak and so we were defiled. But now, we have the strength and courage to fight. Even if the police intimidate us, we will fight. We don't want compensation. We need justice."