Chennai Loyola College Staff Alleges Sexual Harassment By Jesuit Priest, Authorities' Failure Force Her To Move Madras High Court

by M R Subramani - Jul 29, 2020 03:00 PM +05:30 IST
Chennai Loyola College Staff Alleges Sexual Harassment By Jesuit Priest, Authorities' Failure Force Her To Move Madras High CourtLoyola College Main Building (The_wind_or_breeze/Wikimedia Commons)
  • Mary Rajasekharan, the college employee in question, has accused director of Loyola Alumni Association, Xavier Alphonse, of siphoning off nearly Rs 1 crore from the corpus of the association to a personal trust run by him.

    This, in turn, invited retaliatory harassment, says her complaint.

An administrator of Chennai’s prestigious Loyola College has filed a petition in the Madras High Court against the institution for terminating her services after she complained of sexual harassment by a priest administering the college alumni association.

In the petition filed in the High Court in February 2016, Mary Rajasekharan, who was appointed administrator in July 2010, said her troubles began six months later after she found director of Loyola Alumni Association, Xavier Alphonse, siphoning off nearly Rs 1 crore from the corpus of the association to a personal trust run by him.

A copy of the petition has been made available to Swarajya by All India Christian Forum President Savio Rodrigues, who also published the Goa Chronicle.

The Goan daily has carried Mary’s case in detail.

The case has not made any progress as the college and other respondents are yet to reply to the charges made by Mary.

Retired Bombay and Karnataka High Courts judge, Michael F Saldhana, has taken up her cause by writing to Madras High Court Chief Justice A P Sahi.

In the letter sent on 21 July this year, the retired judge said the delay has hurt him as “it reflects very seriously on the working of the judiciary”.

Mary has complained that Alphonse had also misused the scholarship scheme of the college by providing them to ineligible candidates.

These issues were brought to the notice of the college management in August 2013, leading to Alphonse's powers being curtailed.

The college principal acknowledged her complaint and made it mandatory for the alumni association payments to be executed only with the endorsement of the college campus treasurer.

Since then, Mary said, Alphonse began harassing and abusing her at "every possible instance".

“...sometimes (he) behaved in a manner unbecoming of a reverend priest. In fact, he even attempted to create a rift in my family. I brought these matters to the notice of the management of the college who tried to pacify me but failed to take any meaningful action,” Mary complained.

The failure of the management to take any action against the priest revealed that it was indirectly trying to shield Alphonse's activities.

Also, in 2013, the college organised a “Star Night” (Kalloori Padhai) programme inviting celebrities who were its past students to generate funds for building a “Commerce Block” in its premises.

Mary and her son, who was an executive committee member of the alumni association, put in efforts going out of their way to make the programme a success.

They sold tickets for the programme and roped in big business houses as sponsors to generate the funds.

But Alphonse stymied their efforts by making sponsors and donors draw cheques for the payment in favour of his personal trust.

He also “subverted” the fund collection by distributing a large number of free complimentary tickets to his family and friends’ circle.

These actions of the priest were also reported to the college management.

As Mary persisted with her complaints, her place of work was changed and she was made the secretary of the rector through an order on 20 February 2014.

However, Alphonse continued to sexually harass her.

When she took up her cause with the management, she was dissuaded from even lodging a complaint with the police, as its members feared the college image could be affected.

The management told Mary that Alphonse was being shifted to another institution and she should wait till then.

Mary said in her petition that in the meanwhile, the priest instigated an alumni association member to file a false criminal complaint against her son, Joseph Dominic Kennedy.

As the Coimbatore City police commissioner, A K Viswanathan, was an alumni of the college, she wrote an email on 14 June 2104 detailing the background on why a made-up case has been filed against her son.

In her mail, in which Mary also gave details of the sexual harassment she was subjected to, she sought an impartial enquiry into the complaint.

Mary said in her affidavit that she took up the sexual harassment case with Viswanathan as she thought that as one of the senior-most police officers in the State, he would initiate an enquiry.

Mary also informed the college management of her email to the Coimbatore police commissioner.

This, she says, was done hoping that some “meaningful action” would be taken against the priest.

However on 3 September 2014, the rector asked her to stop coming to the college as steps had been initiated to transfer Alphonse and she could report after that.

She was assured that her salary during her absence would be paid on return to work.

Priest Alphonse was transferred on 13 September 2014 to Madurai. When she went back to the rector to find out when she could resume duty, he asked her to wait for sometime and he would contact her to provide details on her rejoining.

But she did not get any response from the college management till 18 December 2015, when she went to the college and met the principal.

The principal did not respond directly, but indicated that she would not be called back for duty again, forcing her to send an email on 29 December 2015 to the management asking about her status.

She did not get any response to it.

Contending that as a regular employee, her services cannot be terminated abruptly without any enquiry or show-cause notice, Mary contended that she is yet to be issued an order terminating her service.

The college management is yet to conduct an enquiry on the sexual harassment as per the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The Supreme Court guidelines on dealing with sexual harassment complaints in the Vishaka case judgement have also not been followed, she said.

Mary’s case has now been referred to the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Women.

Retired justice Saldhana, in his letter, to Madras High Court Chief Justice has pointed out that Mary was already 62 years old and “even belated justice is the next best” despite the delay so far.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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