A special investigation team probing the abduction and molestation of a popular Malayalam actor has made another arrest in the case that has again raised questions about the safety of women in the country.
Manikandan was arrested from his hideout in Palakkad in a pre-dawn swoop, police said, taking the number of arrests to six in the case that has shaken the people and the film industry alike.
The main accused in the sexual assault, suspected to be carried out by contract criminals, continues to be on the run.
Adding to police’s embarrassment, Sunil Kumar alias Pulsar Suni, and his accomplice, Vijesh, who are still on the run, approached the Kerala high court for a pre-arrest bail. The plea will be heard later on Tuesday.
The SIT said it had information about the two and the case would be cracked soon.
The 30-year-old actor, who has worked in more than 75 movies, was allegedly taken hostage on the way from Thrissur to Kochi on Friday and molested by a seven-member gang.
The criminals took pictures and videos to blackmail her before letting her go.
Police suspect the gangsters belong to the “quotation mafia”, the Kerala equivalent of “supari” gangs – criminals for hire. It is unclear who hired the gang but accusations are that the motive was to derail the actor’s career.
In her complaint, the actor said Sunil Kumar told her to “co-operate” as they were doing a “quotation work”. He also threatened to inject her with drugs and take her to a secret hideout, she said.
Kumar worked with many artistes including actor Mukesh, who confirmed he was with him for six months but said he wasn’t aware of his criminal past.
Police suspect Kumar may have blackmailed others in a similar way.
Two of the arrested men told police they were not in the car when the actor was attacked, sources said. They also said they were promised Rs 30 lakh for the abduction while Kumar reportedly demanded Rs 60 lakh from the actor.
After Malayalam film industry, Bollywood, too, has came out in support of the actor. “Anybody going to do anything about the safety of women in the country? Heart broken, ”wrote Shraddha Kapoor in a Facebook post.
“How do we make our women safe? Does anyone in the government have an answer?” tweeted Arjun Kapoor.
Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi has demanded dismissal of the Pinarayi government. “There is no governance in Kerala. Women and children are at receiving end. The state is a fit case for President’s rule,” she told a Malayalam channel in New Delhi.
The National Commission for Women has summoned the state police chief Loknath Behera.