Updated: July 10, 2021 12:07:42 pm
Two months after a 19-year-old national-level runner filed a sexual harassment complaint against renowned coach P Nagarajan at a Chennai police station, seven more women athletes, among them India internationals, have come forward with similar allegations against him.
All the complainants had trained as juniors under Nagarajan, 59, and the alleged abuse is said to have happened over many years. Some of the athletes are now long-retired. As a coach, Nagarajan is credited with mentoring several national medalists over three decades.
The complainants are in the process of recording their statements before a magistrate.
Hours after the first complaint, filed on May 28, Nagarajan had allegedly attempted suicide by consuming sleeping pills. Following his discharge from hospital, he was arrested and is facing charges under the IPC and POCSO Act.
“We have received seven additional complaints of similar nature against Nagarajan,” Deputy Commissioner of Police S Maheshwaran confirmed to The Indian Express, adding that one of the alleged incidents happened back in 2005. The officer added that more details are expected to emerge as the women testify.
H Jayalakshmi, DyCP, Special Wing for Crimes Against Women and Children, said: “Each and every complaint has been revealing the predatory nature of the accused.”
Police have also invoked the Goondas Act against Nagarajan, with an amendment making it applicable against alleged sexual offenders in the state.
Nagarajan’s wife Grace Helina refused to comment on the case.
The first allegations against the coach appeared in a tweet by political analyst and sports commentator T N Raghu on May 26, carrying anonymous testimonies of alleged victims. Raghu tagged Chief Minister M K Stalin in the post.
Maheshwaran said they identified the 19-year-old following investigation based on the tweet. “She said she had been sexually abused while training under Nagarajan from 2013 to 2020. This athlete came forward to register a case with police.”
The police statement, which gave details of her complaint, issued at the time of the coach’s arrest said, “The complainant along with other girls has been training under Nagarajan since 2013. On many occasions, after the day’s training, he would send off the other girls, lure her into a small room, and under the pretext of providing physiotherapy, would touch her inappropriately. Despite her pleading and resisting, he stated that he would help her succeed in athletics only if she cooperated. The same has happened with other girls as well.”
As per the statement, the coach threatened to stop training her and finish off her career, ensuring she was not given entry into competitions, if she resisted. He also warned he would kill her and her family. “Owing to the mental stress she was going through, she didn’t mention the sexual harassment to anyone,” the statement said, adding that the athlete eventually moved to another coach.
The other complainants came forward after police publicised the mobile number and email address of the investigating officer. They are now in touch with each other.
The Indian Express spoke to one of the seven, who represented India as a junior. She alleged that Nagarajan started sexually abusing her at the age of 13 and this went on for nearly seven years. She claims she became suicidal and had frequent nervous breakdowns.
“When I was in 8th grade, Nagarajan said he wanted to improve my long jump technique. He asked me to come an hour before everyone. So if everybody got there at 4 pm, I would reach at 3. He would say at around 4 o’clock to act as if I am just walking in. It sort of struck me like I am getting special training and that he doesn’t want others to know because they are going to be upset. I was still part of a team and I didn’t want to lose my friends over this. So that was the set-up,” she said.
During one such session, she alleged, the abuse began. “I didn’t know what to make of it, I was ashamed, shocked. I could not even process it. Now I am in my 30s but I am trying to analyse my 13-year-old self… it continued all the way through till 12th grade.” One incident allegedly happened when the team travelled to Bangalore.
Finally, traumatised by the harassment, she said, she joined another track and field club after getting a No Objection Certificate from Nagarajan. When she confronted him on the final day, she said, he asked for her forgiveness.
But her hopes of having put it all behind were dashed, she said, as at the new club she heard other stories of abuse by Nagarajan. “Here I was thinking that I was the only one… I thought it would stop with me. It shattered me.”
That was the time before social media, and she wonders if she could have done more, used a recording device or confided in her parents, or have had access to a helpline. “I am so ashamed that compared to girls coming from villages I had a bit of awareness but I was not bold enough.”
She hopes that with Nagarajan facing multiple cases, she will at last have “closure”. “We finally got him. I don’t know what will happen to him, but what has happened thus far is that his mask is off. Right now I am just expecting to make sure that he never touches another girl again.”
with Arun Janardhanan
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