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Thursday, June 1, 2023

The case of Josephine Jeyashanthi – how a Jesuit college muffled a sexual harassment victim’s voice

The hypocrisy of Dravidianists and Christian social activists has been exposed yet again by a sexual harassment victim who worked in the prestigious Jesuit institution, Loyola College. Josephine Jeyashanthi, former lecturer of Loyola College, has been locking horns with the Jesuit priests of the college in a 9 year long fight for justice. Her ordeal came out recently after the PSBB sexual harassment issue was blown out of proportion with calls for the government to take over the school.

Josephine joined Loyola College as a lecturer in 2006 on contract basis. She was initially working in the Media Arts department and later shifted to the Tamil department. After two years of probation her position was confirmed. Josephine is said to have done her job dedicatedly and brought many laurels to the institution. She was given the responsibility of being in charge of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). Under her guidance students won the SIFE World Cup both in 2007 at New York and in 2010 at Los Angeles.

Sexual harassment by HOD 

Josephine was widely respected and loved among the students but the Head of the Department, Dr.S.Antony Rajarajan was rude to her from the beginning and treated her unfairly. “He would throw the leave application on my face when I request for leave. He would insult me in front of others using abusive language”, she revealed in a press meet. Antony is said to have compelled her to enroll herself as a research student under his guidance to which Josephine didn’t submit.

Josephine revealed that Antony invited her to stay with him in a lodge in a vulgar language. He kept chasing her in a predatory manner by changing her workstation to keep her infront of his eyes inside his cabin, frequenting her seat in the SIFE office and passing extremely obscene comments like “You are lying dry and bare without a husband, better succumb to my desire” and “There is a hole in your body, I know how to plug it” sometimes in front of their colleagues as well. At one point of time Antony even flung a chair at Josephine because of which she fainted on the spot. A student who witnessed the incident admitted her to a hospital and narrated it to the inquiry committee later.

Loyola management’s inaction

In 2012, Josephine filed a sexual harassment complaint against Antony with the internal complaints committee. However she was not the only person to level sexual harassment charges against Antony, as some other staff members also complained of the same while bringing forth the corrupt practices of Antony in the department to a different committee. After her complaint to the anti-sexual harassment committee, Antony prepared a 60 point accusation letter on Josephine and circulated it in the campus to tarnish her image and paint her as a characterless woman.

At the same time the college management also wanted Josephine to withdraw the complaint. Josephine told them that she would withdraw the complaint if Antony gave a written apology. Antony was emboldened and slandered Josephine as the committee informed that he will be given space to accommodate his views as well which is completely against the Vishaka guidelines. Josephine’s efforts to get justice from the committee were in vain as Loyola management was trying to suppress the investigation and even seeked legal opinion on whether only a committee formed as per Vishaka guidelines should investigate the matter.

Despite the legal team’s advice that only a committee formed following Vishaka guidelines can investigate it, Rev.G. Joseph Antony Samy, who later became the Principal, compelled Josephine to withdraw the complaint. Later in 2013 the Principal issued a letter stating that the internal committee will continue its investigation. But then he issued another letter including Antony’s slanderous letter in the investigation and sent back Josephine’s complaint to her. Yet she persisted with her efforts and the committee submitted their report to the management in March, 2013.

Jesuit institution

Neither was this report given to Josephine as mandated by the Vishaka guidelines nor did the management take any action based on it. But the harassment continued, with Fr.Xavier Alphonse, another sexual abuser involved in the Mary Rajasekharan case, passing remarks like  “Why is this woman still here?”. After assuming the office of Principal in August 2013, Rev.G. Joseph Antony Samy formed another committee with four lady staff who asked Josephine what was her expectation for a compromise. ‘Several office bearers of Catholic Associations allegedly attempted to persuade her to withdraw the complaint on the plea that the probe would only tarnish the image of 87-year-old Jesuit institution’ The New Indian Express reported.

While the Vishaka guidelines mandate that the victim be granted leave during the enquiry Josephine was made to come to work. But Antony was given medical leave for 2 months during which he sent his accomplice A.Prince, another professor at Loyola College to harass her. This Prince is said to have behaved like a rowdy even in his college days in Loyola and tried to make an attempt on Josephine’s life at the behest of Antony. Principal Rev.G. Joseph Antony Samy not only failed to ensure justice to her but dared her to go to the court as well.

Loyola lied to court and police

But police wouldn’t even file Josephine’s complaint and she had to rap the doors of the court to get her complaint registered. This however got the attention of the college management which terminated her in 2014 without giving prior notice or valid reasons. When Josephine wanted to know the reason behind her termination, she was told that Secretary Albert Williams told her that ‘being a Christian minority institution, they didn’t need to give anybody any reason’. She had earlier filed a petition in the Madras High Court seeking to direct the college management to give her the report of the internal committee and provide protection against termination. 

When it came for hearing Secretary Albert Williams told the court that Antony had been given a punishment of censure and produced a copy of the punishment order. But the same Secretary told the police that the sexual harassment accusations were false and that Josephine filed the case to exact revenge. Principal Rev.John Antony Samy also wrote a letter to the police to the same effect. When Josephine inquired about this anomaly she came to know that the punishment certificate submitted in court was of the action taken against Antony regarding the corruption charges leveled against him. So the management of Loyola College effectively lied to both the police and the court.

Jesuit institution
Pictures displayed at an art exhibition in Loyola College, Chennai

The fight for justice continues

In 2019 the court ruled that Josephine can seek legal action against Antony Rajarajan, Prince and Rev.John Antony Samy under Section 13 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and directed the college management to hand over the report to her. Josephine had alleged that the report was given to Antony who then sent legal notices to those who turned up as witnesses for Josephine.

From failing to constitute a committee within 90 days as mandated by the Vishaka guidelines to misleading the court with false information Loyola management has broken many rules to save the so-called ‘dignity’ of the institution. Instead of punishing the offender, they actually promoted him to a position paid by the government from a self-financed one. At last the court passed a judgement in December 2020, to compensate the loss of employment with an amount of Rs.10 lakhs and the sexual harassment with an amount of Rs.6 lakhs within two months of recieving the judgement copy and ordered the college management to ensure proper implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. However it is alleged that Josephine hasn’t received the compensation yet.

Apart from making the life of Josephine hell for standing up, Loyola management also threatened her colleagues to not speak to the police about the ordeal she faced in their institution. Similar threats were made to Mary Rajasekharan, a victim of sexual harassment at the hands of a Jesuit priest, Xavier Alphonse. The Jesuit institution’s actions in both Josephine and Mary Rajasekharan’s cases raise suspicions as to how many women employees and students were silenced through threats and money to save face. Loyola is just another Christian institution where women’s chastity and dignity are in threat. But it had the gall to conduct an art exhibition in the name of artistic freedom and FoE which mocked Hindu deities, symbols and beliefs in the garb of feminism.

(Featured Image Source: YouTube)

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