It all began with a month-old audio clip, which went viral on social media over the weekend. Nirmala Devi, an assistant professor of mathematics in Devanga Arts College in Aruppukottai in Virudhanagar district in Tamil Nadu, is heard telling four girl students “to get some jobs done, top officials of Madurai Kamaraj University (to which the college is affiliated) expected a few college girls.” Saying she didn’t want to elaborate further, she hoped the girls understood what she was getting at. High marks, good academic prospects and money were apparently dangled before the hapless students.
At one point in the 20-minute clip, Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit is referenced in passing, though not by name, to illustrate the high-level access the lady had. The governor’s office, within a few hours of the news from Aruppukottai unfolding, appointed retired chief secretary R Santhanam to inquire into the case and submit his report within a week.
It is learnt that the students had lodged a complaint with the college on 19 March. The college had suspended the professor on 21 March. But the college did not file a police complaint and according to the vice-chancellor, the university was not even informed. However, with the audio clip going viral and members of the Students Federation of India staging a protest outside the campus, the college secretary R Ramasamy filed a complaint with the police on 16 April.
After drama which unfolded over five hours, Nirmala Devi was arrested on the same day. She had locked herself in her home after hearing of her imminent arrest. With her house surrounded by the police and local journalists, she refused to come out or communicate with the police but they finally managed to contact her through some relatives and convinced her to surrender. Later, while speaking to journalists, Nirmala Devi admitted that the voice on the tape was hers but said the students had "misunderstood" her. She, however, did not explain what exactly she wanted to convey.
The Aruppukottai town police registered a case under IPC Sections 370 (trafficking) and 511 (attempt to commit an office) as well as Section 67 of the Information Technology Act (transmitting electronically material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct).
Virudhunagar district Additional Superintendent of Police Mathi said on Tuesday that they had arrested Nirmala Devi around 7 pm on Monday and the investigation was ongoing with help from the district superintendent of police. The accused would be produced in Virudhunagar court by Tuesday evening, he said. Later, the court ordered remand till 28 April.
The state government on 17 April had tasked DGP K Rajendran to get CBCID, the apex investigative body in the police department, to handle the probe. Meanwhile, Madurai Kamaraj
University Vice-Chancellor P P Chelladurai claimed that "someone was acting as the backbone of Nirmala Devi is out to destroy the name of the Madurai Kamaraj University and its officials”. He blamed the college for not informing the university about the incident earlier. “It is my duty to reveal the truth behind the recordings. We have formed a five-member probe team,” he said on Monday.
However, after meeting with Governor on Tuesday morning, the V-C office sent a communique that said since the governor has appointed the retired IAS officer to investigate the matter, this committee has been dissolved.
Meeting the press on 17 April evening, the governor, flanked by Santhanam and Chelladurai, described the incident as “condemnable, it should not have happened.” He promised “action” against the “guilty” after a “thorough investigation”. When asked about him being mentioned in the leaked audio clip, he said he travels throughout the state as part of his job and meet many people but no one could point a finger at him because of his conduct. He also said he does not know the lady professor. The governor asked the media not to besmirch his name as he was a 74-year old with great grandchildren. On DMK leader M K Stalin’s demand for a CBI probe, Purohit said a decision will be taken after Santhanam submits his report. PMK MP Dr Anbumani Ramadoss had also earlier demanded an investigation by the central agency.
The state government, which has been at loggerheads with the governor on many issues, had its senior leader, minister for fisheries D Jayakumar saying “it is unbecoming of a professor to misguide the students. Such black sheep should be weeded out.” Dr Anbumani Ramadoss added: "We can presume that efforts were taken to lure the girl in order to fulfill the sexual desires of an influential person. It is necessary to expose that person and the administrators of Kamaraj University who indulged in the abominable act."
The author is a Chennai-based writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2018 15:20:40 IST