The #MeToo campaign, which made headlines in many parts of the country, had not gained much traction in Kerala till now. However, the movement may gain strength in the state, with the police acting on revelations made by a "tainted" women entrepreneur four years ago.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front government, reeling under an unprecedented communal flare-up over the Supreme Court verdict on entry of women of all ages into the popular Sabarimala hill shrine, revived the case by constituting a new investigation team of the crime branch.
The investigation team headed by Abdul Kareem, commandant of Malabar Special Police (MSP), has set the ball rolling by initiating criminal proceedings against senior Congress leader and former chief minister Oommen Chandy and party colleague and former union minister KC Venugopal on a complaint lodged by Saritha S Nair, the prime accused in the alleged solar scam.
In a first information report (FIR) filed on 20 October in the Thiruvananthapauram Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court, the crime branch said that the two had sexually abused the woman when she approached them for government support for the business she partnered with her estranged husband Biju Radhakrishnan.
The FIR accused Chandy, who is currently AICC general secretary, of having unnatural sex with Sarita at Cliff House, the official residence of the chief minister, during a shut down strike in 2012. Venugopal, a member of Parliament and AICC general secretary, has been accused of having sex with her at multiple places, including the residence of former state minister KP Anil Kumar.
Sarita had leveled sexual abuse allegations against a dozen Congress leaders, including two former union ministers and three former state ministers besides a few other MPs and MLAs in a letter she submitted to a judicial commission appointed by the then Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government to probe the solar scam.
The scam, which involved more than 30 people alleging being cheated of Rs 6.5 crores by Sarita and Biju Radhakrishnan by offering solar solutions citing their political contacts, had come to light when one of the customers who had paid for installing solar panels filed a complaint against their company.
The names of Chandy and his party men figured in the scam after records of the telephone conversations between Sarita and some members of the then chief minister’s personal staff got leaked. Chandy sought to quell the storm by removing them from his staff.
However, it turned against him after the judicial panel decided to take cognisance of the letter Sarita wrote while she was in jail following her arrest in one of the cheating cases slapped against her by her customers.
The commission headed by retired high court judge Justice G Sivarajan had submitted its report in September 2017, saying that top members of the political executive had sought and received bribes and sexual favours from Sarita to promote their business.
The panel observed that sexual favours could be construed as illegal gratification as defined in the Prevention of Corruption Act and recommended action could be taken against those named in her letter, which was appended with its report.
Accepting the report, the LDF government set up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the findings and register cases against Chandy and others. However, North Zone DGP Rajesh Dewan, who headed the team, did not act on the direction, following legal advice that the allegation will not stand before a court of law.
After the retirement of Dewan, his charge was handed over to ADGP (south zone) Anil Kant, but he too could not proceed as the state high court had by then expunged the commission's findings and observations against Chandy based on the letter.
Saritha then lodged individual complaints against Chandy and five others, including former state ministers AP Anil Kumar and Aryadan Mohammed. Sources close to the new investigation team said that an FIR against the others will also be registered soon.
Senior Congress leaders have termed the case politically motivated. They said that the LDF government has revived the case against legal advice to divert attention of the people from the explosive situation it has created in Sabarimala. Chandy, too, has subscribed to the view.
“This has happened before also and now this fresh development has surfaced because of the issues in Sabarimala. I will deal with this case legally and on Monday in the state capital, I will reveal more details,” Chandy was quoted by IANS as saying.
Social activists feel the case may embolden women, who have been shying away from joining the #MeToo campaign even after it has become a rallying point against sexual harassment in many parts of the country.
Though Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), which emerged in the wake of the arrest of actor Dileep in an abduction case of an actor, spoke of rampant sexual harassment in the cinema industry, none of its members have named anybody so far.
However, it has put the male-dominated Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) on tenterhooks by threatening to come out with their #MeToo stories at the appropriate time. Though three women from the industry have revealed the names, neither AMMA nor the police have taken it seriously.
Actor and CPM MLA, Mukesh Kumar, who was the first to face the #MeToo heat in Kerala, has laughed off the charge levelled against him by Bollywood casting director Tess Joseph saying that he did not remember the incident, which is said to have happened in Chennai 19 years ago. Since then, two more women came out with stories of harassment they faced from the men in Mollywood.
AMMA and other industry bodies have ignored the revelations. Members of the WCC are not surprised by their attitude. They said that they were more interested in finding a solution to the issue rather than exposing a few people.
The women’s body has initiated the process for a permanent solution by seeking an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within AMMA with third party experts on gender and from the judiciary as its members. It has already filed a writ petition in the high court in this regard.
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2018 23:19:50 IST