Seven long hours in Chennai police stations to file a sexual harassment complaint

After an incident of sexual harassment, the survivor's treatment by the police shows there is a long way to go for women to feel safe in Chennai.

On the morning of January 31, a friend, Priya*, and I went to attend the public consultation for the ‘Pen Monument’ held at Kalaivanar Arangam. A group of us were attending the consultation, some in an official capacity and some as citizens who wanted to voice their thoughts on the issue. Little did we apprehend that this would lead to a long, traumatic experience for her, as some time into the consultation, she was sexually harassed by a group of men.

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, she had to go through a seven-hour-long ordeal, just trying to lodge a police complaint against the perpetrators. 

The incident

While the public hearing was scheduled to be held for the whole day, the officials of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) present at the venue said that they were closing the hearing by 1.30 pm. Priya, who was close to the dais, was shooting a video of a person objecting to the official’s decision to close the public hearing early, as many had not had a chance to speak, despite registering their names. 

public consultation
Public consultation on the Pen Memorial took place at Kalaivanar Arangam. Pic: Shobana Radhakrishnan

At this time, some important functionaries came in, escorted by a group of men, including male police personnel. My friend suddenly found herself surrounded by that group of men. She was molested several times, as a crowd began to form near the stage. With her way out blocked, she pressed up against the stage to protect herself. 

Though she tried to reach out to the police personnel immediately, there were no women police anywhere near the stage to call attention to the incident right away. However, within an hour, she decided to file a sexual harassment complaint at a police station.


Read more: All you need to know about filing an FIR in Chennai


The struggle to file a complaint

At around 3.30 pm, six of us, including Priya, entered the D1 police station in Triplicane to file the complaint. This was the nearest police station to Kalaivanar Arangam, the venue of the public consultation and where the harassment took place.

We initially met a sub-inspector who asked us if we had a video, and how we expected them to find the culprits from among so many people. There was no Writer at the station to take the complaint from Priya. She was instead given a piece of paper and asked to write a complaint on her own. 

In the complaint, she outlined the entire incident and asked for a review of the CCTV footage at the Kalaivanar Arangam’s main auditorium to identify the men responsible. She also pointed out that the event was being recorded by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and several other media organisations, and so, securing footage from them could be of help in locating the culprits. She had not seen their faces clearly, but she identified them as ‘party men’ based on the clothes they were wearing and the slogans voiced by them.

The complaint submitted, Priya had to wait for over an hour, after which the woman Circle Inspector P Kalaiselvi met her. She was asked several questions and made to repeat the entire incident to the Circle Inspector. Throughout the course of the day, in fact, the same account had to be repeated several times to multiple officials. 

Even after numerous conversations, a trip to the Kalaivanar Arangam, and failed attempts to locate CCTV cameras, there was no progress. We had not even managed to secure a Community Service Register (CSR) receipt for the complaint. When we approached the Circle Inspector about that, she said that they were waiting for the Assistant Commissioner to come in and would be able to issue the CSR receipt only after consulting with him.

Shortly afterwards, police told her that they could not give the CSR receipt without reviewing the CCTV footage. This, when all of us, including the police, were well aware that there were no CCTV cameras inside the main auditorium. 

Why name the party?

At around 7 pm, we were all called into the room of Assistant Commissioner MS Baskar. He explained that if the party name (DMK) had not been mentioned and the molesters had instead been referred to as ‘unidentified persons in the crowd’, they could have given the CSR receipt immediately. “Since the party name is mentioned, there are chances of the case being diverted as political vendetta,” he said.

He also added that in the next ten hours, they would find the video footage and call us again to identify the molesters, and then file the First Information Report (FIR) directly. 

But then,  just as we were about to leave, they called us back inside and told us that they would issue a CSR receipt, but from the All Women Police Station (AWPS) at Anna Salai.

All that a survivor had to answer while trying to file a police complaint

  • How could she expect the police to nail the perpetrators when there was such a huge crowd?
  • Why had she not complained immediately to the police at the venue? 
  • Why was she looking for a female police officer at the venue? (“There is no male or female police; Why were you scared to approach a male cop?”)
  • Why was she sitting cross-legged at the police station (after nearly six hours of waiting), as it was disrespectful to the officials?
  • Did she not know that the police were the ‘commanders of the public’ and that she must obey everything they say (including how to sit at the police station?

Read more: Tips for women in Chennai to fight the stalking menace


The Anna Salai chapter

Circle Inspector Kalaiselvi accompanied us to the AWPS at around 8 pm, where another long wait commenced at the visitors’ lobby. In a rather bizarre turn of events, here we ran into a completely unrelated and unnecessary altercation over why Priya was sitting with her legs crossed in the police station. 

Our protests over the unreasonable censure over such an inconsequential issue snowballed into an argument. Inspector SA Veerachamy of the D2 Police Station (which is housed in the same building as the AWPS) made derisive comments about us being mentally ill when we pointed out that there were no rules on how one must be seated at a police station. When one of us started filming the interaction, he started hurling slurs towards the group. 

When the survivor asked why she was made to wait for seven hours in the first place, he replied, “Ask this to those who made you wait. This is my station and I will decide how people should sit here. You are not allowed to sit here now. Get out!”

Later the Circle Inspector came in and asked us to move to another room. Meanwhile, Veerachamy, threatened to foist cases on four of us and instructed the constables to do so. 

It was only around 10:40 pm that we were finally handed the CSR. But then Inspector Veerachamy came back again to ask Priya more questions. The fact that he was probing into this sexual harassment case was itself puzzling since it was technically not within his jurisdiction. We were sent to the AWPS to collect the CSR receipt but ended up having to repeat all details of the incident and subsequent developments at the Triplicane police station to him. 

By the time we could leave, we were exhausted, frustrated and angry. We had our own unvoiced questions, which would perhaps never be answered:

Why was the survivor made to explain the incident so many times to different cops?

Why should the police refuse to accept a complaint merely because it has a mention of the ruling party’s name on it? 

If this is what well-informed, educated citizens have to go through to file a sexual harassment complaint with the police, what would a layperson without much awareness of the law experience? 

What makes the police think that they are ‘commanders of the public’? Shouldn’t respect be earned by them, rather than demanded?

The survivor has escalated the matter to the State Human Rights Commission to ensure that the incident is brought to light and such treatment is not meted out to anyone looking to file a complaint.

*name changed

Also read:

Comments:

  1. Jayaraman V S says:

    I am saddened to read the article. At the same, inam ashamed at the behaviour of the police whose job, first and foremost, is to provide safety and security of the public. Please take up this with DGP and find out what he has to say. Also file a petition with the TN bureau of press council. Please, for heaven’s sake, don’t allow the issue to rest till it is resolved.

  2. geeta says:

    horrifying.

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