Two months after a 19-year-old national-level runner filed a sexual harassment complaint against famous trainer P Nagarajan at a Chennai police station, seven other female athletes, including Indian internationals, filed similar allegations against him.
All of the complainants were trained as juniors under Nagarajan, 59, and the alleged abuses were said to have unfolded over many years. Some of the athletes are now long retired. As a coach, Nagarajan is credited with mentoring several national medalists for three decades.
The plaintiffs are in the process of recording their statements before a magistrate.
A few hours after the first complaint, filed on May 28, Nagarajan allegedly attempted to commit suicide by consuming sleeping pills. After being released from the hospital, he was arrested and faces charges under IPC and POCSO law.
“We have received seven additional complaints of a similar nature against Nagarajan,” Deputy Police Commissioner S Maheshwaran confirmed to The Indian Express, adding that one of the alleged incidents had occurred in 2005. The officer added that more details should emerge as the women testify.
H Jayalakshmi, DyCP, Special Wing for Crimes Against Women and Children, said: “Each complaint revealed the predatory nature of the accused.
Police also invoked the Goondas law against Nagarajan, with an amendment making it applicable against suspected sex offenders in the state.
Nagarajan’s wife Grace Helina declined to comment on the case.
The first allegations against the coach appeared in a tweet by political analyst and sports commentator TN Raghu on May 26, containing anonymous testimonies from alleged victims. Raghu tagged Chief Minister MK Stalin in the post.
Maheshwaran said he identified the 19-year-old following an investigation based on the tweet. “She said she was sexually abused while training under Nagarajan from 2013 to 2020. This athlete came forward to register a case with the police.”
The police statement, which detailed her complaint, released at the time of the coach’s arrest, stated: “The complainant, along with other girls, had been training under Nagarajan since 2013. On several occasions, after the training day, he would send the other girls off, pull her into a small room, and under the guise of doing physiotherapy, touch her inappropriately. Despite her pleas and resistance, he said he would only help her succeed in athletics if she cooperated. The same has happened with other girls too.
According to the statement, the coach threatened to stop training her and end her career, assuring that she would not be allowed to compete if she resisted. He also warned that he would kill her and her family. “Due to the mental stress she was under, she did not mention the sexual harassment to anyone,” the statement said, adding that the athlete eventually changed coaches.
The other plaintiffs came forward after police released the investigator’s cell phone number and email address. They are now in contact with each other.
The Indian Express spoke with one of the seven, who represented India as a junior. She alleged that Nagarajan started sexually abusing her at the age of 13 and that it lasted almost seven years. She claims that she has become suicidal and has 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 else. So if everyone arrived at 4 p.m. I would arrive at 3 a.m. He would say around 4 o’clock to pretend I was coming in. It kind of hit me like I got some special training and that I don’t want other people to know it because they are going to be upset. I was always part of a team and I didn’t want to lose my friends because of it. So that was the edit, ”she said.
During one of those sessions, she alleged, the abuse began. “I didn’t know what to think, I was ashamed, shocked. I couldn’t even process it. Now I’m in my thirties, but I’m trying to analyze my 13 year old self… it continued until grade 12. An incident reportedly occurred when the team traveled to Bangalore.
Eventually, traumatized by the harassment, she said, she joined another track club after getting a no-objection certificate from Nagarajan. When she confronted him on the last day, she said, he begged her forgiveness.
But her hopes of having given it all up were dashed, she said, as at the new club she heard more stories of abuse from Nagarajan. “Here, I thought I was the only one… I thought it would end with me. It broke me.
This 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 had access to a helpline. “I am so ashamed that compared to the girls coming from the villages I was a little aware but I was not daring enough.”
She hopes that with Nagarajan facing several cases, she will finally have a “fence”. “We finally got it. I don’t know what will happen to him, but what has happened so far is that his mask is taken off. Right now, I’m just expecting to make sure he never touches another girl again.
with Arun Janardhanan