New Delhi: On 2 March, an 18-year-old woman shared a post on social media platform Reddit. Within a span of less than 48 hours, a wave of allegations inundated a popular Kochi-based tattoo artist.
In her post, the woman accused 32-year-old Sujeesh P.S., who runs the ‘Inkfected’ tattoo studio in Cheranalloor, Kochi, of raping her during a tattoo session. She alleged that he started off by asking awkward, invasive and uncomfortable questions.
“Is the tattoo because you like sex?…Are you a virgin?…How many times have you done it?…Is the guy outside your boyfriend?…Do you know about bdsm?” read the post, in which the woman narrated her alleged ordeal, accusing the tattooist of raping her after removing her pants, with the needle on her spine.
After allegedly sexually assaulting her, Sujeesh told her that her tattoo was incomplete and she should come back for it. He offered to do it “free of cost”, according to her post.
Soon after this Reddit post, multiple testimonies flooded social media — across Twitter and Instagram — narrating similar instances of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of the tattooist.
As the allegations began pouring in, the Kochi Police initiated a preliminary enquiry, asking the women to come forward and lodge formal complaints.
On 4 March, six women filed complaints against Sujeesh at two different police stations, Palarivattom and Cheranalloor, accusing him of rape and sexual harassment.
In two of the cases, he has been charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 376 (rape). In the other four, he has been charged under sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman intending to outrage her modesty) and 354A(1) (punishment for sexual harassment).
The two cases of alleged rape are from November 2020 and June 2021. Four other cases registered under IPC 354 are from March 2018, April 2018, March 2019, and August 2020.
“After the posts caught the police’s attention, we initiated a preliminary probe. Sujeesh went absconding right after the Reddit post for nearly five days and surrendered on Saturday night after we cornered him,” Kochi Police Commissioner Nagaraju Chakilam told ThePrint. “More women must come out to lodge formal complaints against him, we will ensure all legal proceedings are followed.”
“The women are between the ages of 20-30. The dates of the offences, on which cases have lodged are from 2018-2021. The first reported case of sexual harassment and molestation is from March 2018,” Nagaraju said.
Sujeesh is currently in judicial custody and his parlour has been shut down. Police have collected CCTV footage of his studio and the statements of the women allegedly assaulted are being recorded under 164 CrPC.
However, the 18-year-old who shared the first post on Reddit didn’t lodge any formal complaint with the police.
According to police sources, the 18-year-old had visited the Kochi police, after they reached out to her, along with her parents, saying that she wouldn’t like to initiate legal proceedings in the matter.
Asked why she chose not to register an FIR, she told ThePrint, “I am 18. This isn’t a survivor-friendly society. I will place a complaint when I am in a better mental health space.”
Sujeesh’s wife and two other women customers have questioned the charges levelled at him, alleging a conspiracy.
Testimonies of abuse & pain — needle on skin
In another testimony on Instagram, a woman narrated an incident from 2017.
“He took me to a private room and started working on the tattoo on my back. He started groping me and later he took off his gloves as well. Before I left, he gave me a hug and told me not to pay the whole amount,” she alleged, adding that one of her friends had a similar experience at Sujeesh’s tattoo parlour.
One of the women, who also lodged an official police complaint, posted that, on two instances, the tattooist made her uncomfortable with personal questions and later grabbed her.
“I don’t know what to do. Because he had this needle pressed up against me, I was in pain from the tattoo, I was disgusted with the whole process but there he was acting all natural, as if nothing was happening,” she alleged.
Speaking to ThePrint, another 22-year-old woman, who has lodged an official complaint, accused Sujeesh of asking her to “remove her bra” for a tattoo on her ribs and then groping her.
“Two years ago, I visited him for one of my first tattoos. He is extremely manipulative, he would intimidate women and then also ask us to get tattoos closer to our private parts. He takes us to a private room, there are no CCTV cameras inside that room,” she told ThePrint.
“He has been sexually assaulting women since 2017-2018. There are many more such instances but not everyone could come up to lodge formal police complaints,” she added.
Sources in the Kochi police said that Sujeesh would “trap his victims and force himself on them with the needle on their skin”. “He sexually assaulted them on needle point,” a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity.
“He takes advantage of the numbness caused by the needle on the skin while making the tattoo. In most cases, he would start by trying to get over-friendly with the women, asking personal questions and then move to passing lewd remarks ,” the officer said.
Speaking to ThePrint, another woman alleged: “One thing which I strongly feel is that he loves hurting [people], the more you resist the more he digs the needle into you. I don’t know whether it’s the same with everyone. So you reach a point where you get confused about where to focus, the pain or the abuse.”
In the cases where he has been accused of rape, the two women accused the tattoo artist of “inserting his finger into their private part” and also forcing them to perform “oral sex”, said a police source.
Wife calls it a ‘conspiracy’, others note celebrity clientele
The tattooist is popular for his art and has over time attained a “celebrity status”, police, customers, and others known to him said.
“He shifted his parlour from Palarivattom to Cheranalloor in February 2021. A lot of his clients include celebrities,” the Kochi Police Commissioner said.
A native of Vennala, Kochi, Sujeesh is a BCom graduate who started his first parlour 2017, according to police sources. His Instagram account — ‘Inkfected tattoo studio’ — has over 52,000 followers, including many official blue-tick handles. “Licensed Tattoo artist. Proud Indian. Auto enthusiast,” his bio reads.
“He is good at his art, is extremely popular, has a celebrity clientele and we tend to listen, only to see the horror unfold,” said the 22-year-old woman quoted above.
ThePrint spoke to two other women who got tattoos from him. Both of them claimed that the tattooist is “a nice person, happily married and that these are all just part of a conspiracy hatched by his competitors”.
Three other women distanced themselves from Sujeesh and refused to comment.
Speaking to ThePrint, his wife said: “Ongoing allegations are completely fake. After more investigations, the truth will definitely come to light.”
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
Source: The Print