Sexual harassment of women at work by their superiors or bosses remains a depressingly common phenomenon worldwide. Though the #MeToo campaign to end sexual harassment gained traction throughout the world around the close of 2017, and many sexual assault allegations against influential men began to flood in, the phenomenon has and will always persist.
More importantly, the concerning part is that though these episodes have life-altering consequences on the victims, particularly when it involves repeated abuses and/or retaliation against a victim who refuses to succumb to the harassment or who complains about it, most such cases go unnoticed because the perpetrators are members of society’s influential and powerful echelons.
Such was the case of Josephine Jeyashanthi, an ordinary Christian middle-class woman, who dedicated her life to shaping the careers of her students and bringing honour to the prestigious Loyola College in Chennai until she was fired by the college administration.
What did she do wrong? Why was she unjustly relieved of her duties, that too without being given the dues she was entitled to receive? Only that she spoke up against the sexual harassment she was subjected to by her superiors and fought against a powerful system hell-bent on shielding a group of sexual predators on campus.
Its been 13 years since Josephine has been fighting with the mighty administration of the ‘prestigious’ Loyola College, Chennai. Despite the Madras High Court passing a judgement in her favour in 2019, the college did nothing to punish her sexual predators nor has it bothered to pay Josephine her back wages running in lakhs or follow the HC order to get her mandamus for compensation of Rs 59 lakhs.
When OpIndia contacted the lecturer, she told us about her ordeals, as well as about her long-drawn 13 years of struggles and pursuit for justice. She wants to bring to the fore, how educational institutions, as esteemed as Loyola College, Chennai, a Jesuit Institution, have proven to be a hotbed of sexual harassment, where vulnerable women are preyed upon, while harassers, most of whom are professors or Jesuit priests, easily get away with it.
Josephine Jeyashanthi joined Loyola College in Chennai as a lecturer in the Department of Media Arts in June 2006. She was later shifted to Department of Tamil in June 2007 without any written order. She was on probation for two years and her service was confirmed by the Loyola management in 2009.
Josephine was a committed lecturer who had earned the college multiple awards. During her tenure as in-charge of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), the college won the national competition as well as the SIFE World Cup in both 2007 and 2010 in New York and Los Angeles. With her teaching, she also struck a connection with the students. She had also participated in a number of programmes aimed at improving the lives of the poor.
“You are lying dry and bare without a husband, better succumb to my desire”, Rajarajan to Josephine
Trouble started for her when Dr S Antony Rajarajan (referred to as S A Rajarajan) became the head of the Tamil department in the year 2008. He was arrogant from the start of his term as the Head of the Department (HOD). “When I requested leave, he would toss the leave application in my face. He would use nasty language to insult me in front of others. Every day, I was subjected to harassment.” OpIndia was told by Josephine.
Rajarajan had even forced her to enrol as a research student “under his supervision,” which Josephine flatly refused. Regardless of her rejection, he persisted. Josephine told OpIndia that the HOD even invited her to stay with him in a lodge in a manner so disturbing that it continues to haunt her to this day.
“You are lying dry and bare without a husband, better succumb to my desire” is what he used to tell me. In front of many others he said, There is a hole in your body, I know how to plug it. That’s the kind of obscenity I had to endure”, Josephine lamented, furthering that because she refrained from his advances, the accused filed bogus complaints with management against her, claiming that she wasn’t doing her job properly and wasn’t taking classes on a regular basis. “He created a hostile work environment for me”, said the desolate lecturer.
She said that Rajarajan changed her workstation at the college inside his cabin and compelled her to sit there and work. “Once, he harassed me sexually to the core that I was hospitalized after that incident and had to take treatment”, recollected Josephine. She furthered that one of her students had witnessed the entire episode. He was the one who had taken her to the hospital after she was assaulted by the HOD. He had even recorded the episode which he produced as proof when he was called to testify before the committee formed to investigate Josephine’s sexual harassment accusation.
Tired of the continuous harassment, Josephine finally lodged a formal complaint on December 13, 2012 to the official anti-sexual harassment committee, which was formed in the beginning of the academic year and the same was printed in the handbook of Loyola College for the academic year 2012-13.
The Secretary of Loyola College, Albert Williams, urged her to withdraw the complaint, but Josephine stated then that she might consider it if Antony Rajarajan issued her a written apology.
The result of this was that “Prof S A Rajarajan circulated in the entire campus a highly derogatory note consisting of about 60 false accusations against me, showing me in a bad light. The management did not take any action against this improper act of Prof S A Rajarajan”, said Josephine, furthering that as per the Vishaka Guidelines 1997 (6) SCC Page no. 241, the College administration should have taken proper steps against the delinquent, Dr S A Rajarajan.
Josephine said that the college management did not take any action against him. In fact, they tried to stall the enquiry and did not allow the anti-sexual harassment committee to also probe her complaint.
She sent at least nine emails to the college administration from January 22, 2013, to March 3, 2013, urging them to allow the anti-sexual harassment committee to probe her complaint against Rajarajan, but to no avail.
Rajarajan was also charged with corruption
The college, in turn, asked Josephine to depose before the committee probing the corruption charges against her sexual predator.
Actually, two months before Josephine had lodged the sexual harassment complaint against S A Rajarajan, another department staff had complained of Rajarajan indulging in corrupt practices in the college. In this complaint related to corruption, a reference to him sexually harassing staff members was also made.
So now the college pestered Josephine to depose before the committee inquiring the corruption charges, but she disagreed.
“The management suggested to me many other committees to suppress the issue. One such committee was constituted by the management headed by Dr Soosai Sebastian SJ meant to enquire about the corruption charges against the delinquent and insisted me to depose my charges of sexual harassment to the same committee which was informed by the Principal through his Email dated 22nd January 2013. But, I made it very clear to that particular committee in writing that I will appear before the committee and will not disclose any information about my complaint on sexual harassment, since I was firm that an enquiry for such a grave criminal offence must be conducted separately, that too, only by the official anti-sexual harassment committee of the college”, said the victim to OpIndia.
Loyola college, Chennai aided the accused in defaming the victim
The management then sought legal advice to determine whether the committee established in accordance with the Vishaka Guidelines should only investigate Josephine’s sexual harassment complaint. On March 18, 2013, the then-Principal of the College, Fr Boniface Jeyaraj SJ, emailed this information to her.
Even the advocate, the college had referred to, suggested that Josephine’s complaint should be investigated by the Sexual harassment complaints committee established in accordance with the Vishaka rules. Yet, on February 22, 2013, in the presence of Dr G Joseph Antony Samy SJ, who would go on to become the Principal of the college, the management put pressure on Josephine to take the complaint back in an attempt to shield Prof S A Rajarajan. “I refused and stood my ground”, said the former lecturer of Loyola College, Chennai.
Josephine continued that on February 22, 2013, the Fr Principal issued a letter stating that the anti-sex-harassment committee will proceed with the enquiry, but still the probe was not conducted.
Again, on March 5, 2013, Fr Principal wrote a letter addressed to Josephine. This letter also included Rajarajan’s letter where he tried to character assassinate her with 60 false accusations. By including Rajarajan’s letter, what the college was effectively trying to do is return the complaint back to her.
Rajarajan had resorted to this move of circulating a slanderous letter on Josephine because the committee had notified Rajarajan that they would be allowing space to accommodate what Rajarajan had to say on the issue, which is absolutely contrary to the criteria prescribed by the Supreme Court’s Vishaka Guidelines. Despite bringing this to their attention, the committee did not take any action against Rajarajan for his despicable actions.
Thus, the Loyola College administration had effectively committed a serious crime by facilitating the accused to vilify the victim.
Nevertheless, due to Josephine’s continuous persistence, the college finally on March 19, 2013, allowed the Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee to probe her case. The committee submitted its report to the management on March 23, 2013.
“On the final day of the academic year 2012-13, Fr B Jeyaraj told me that the new Principal Fr G Joseph Antonysamy will take appropriate action, but the new Principal did not serve me the report of the committee and did not take any initiative to take action”, rued Josephine.
Now, Loyola College in Chennai got a new principal named Fr G Joseph Antonysamy. On August 7 2013, the new Principal formed another committee, consisting of four lady staff members who had no clue about Josephine’s case, yet they insisted on a compromise.
“The illegal intimidation caused enormous mental agony and torture to me. At this juncture, the Sexual Harassment Act 2013 had also come into force, but the continued harassment peaked”, lamented the victim.
While the Vishaka Guidelines mandate that the victim be given leave during the investigation, it turned out to be the opposite in this case. The culprit, S Antony Rajarajan, was granted two months of medical leave by Loyola’s administration.
During this time, S Antony Rajarajan teamed up with another professor, A Prince, to torment Josephine even more. A Prince, who studied at Loyola and later became a lecturer there, was considered to be boisterous even as a student. He plotted with Antony Rajarajan to kill Josephine at the Nungambakkam Railway Station, however, the attempt was foiled as Josephine luckily received a tip-off.
Finally, Rev G Joseph Antonysamy, who called Josephine a ‘magale’ (daughter in Tamil) in a condescending tone, asked her to go to court.
“As I was left with no other option, I filed a case in the High Court of Madras (Case no. 34958/2013), seeking a copy of the anti-sexual harassment enquiry committee’s final report and seeking job protection. Since I did not get any justice for the sexual harassment suffered inside the campus from the management and also I received a life threat from the same people I lodged a complaint to the city Police Commissioner on 31.12.2013 against those from whom I received threats for my life”, informed Josephine.
Explaining the extent of harassment she had to face in her pursuit of justice, Josephine furthered that her complaint was routed to the Thousand Lights all-women police station. She was called for an inquiry on January 6th and 8th, 2014. The police visited the college on January 27, 2014, and enquired about her, but did not register an FIR against Antony Rajarajan and A Prince.
This deliberated her to file a Criminal Original Petition (CRL OP No. 4427/2014) asking the court to direct the police to file an FIR against the perpetrators.
Soon after this, on February 28, 2014, Josephine was terminated from her service without prior notice and no valid reason. When she confronted the college administration and demanded to know why she was fired, Albert Williams, the Secretary of Loyola College, told her that the college was a “Christian minority institution” and that they didn’t have to give anyone a reason.
“I was humiliated in front of students and forced to vacate the campus around 3 p.m. on the same day without any delay”, Josephine recalled.
Loyola college pressurised and threatened Josephine’s witnesses to change statement
Furthering her ordeal, Josephine told OpIndia, that on March 10 and 13, 2014, a woman police Inspector named Muthulakshmi went to Loyola college and Fr Dr G Joseph Antony Samy SJ, Principal, threatened Josephine’s witnesses to give another letter against their previous deposition that they had made before the committee. “The principal dictated the letters and made them write a completely different statement, which is unethical”, said Josephine adding that those false statements were then handed over to the police to close the case without filing an FIR.
The college management even threatened the professors at the college to not disclose anything as it would show the college in a ‘bad light’. Expressing disgust at the level at which the college stooped to protect her predators, Josephine told us how the secretary of the college went on to plant witnesses. One Ms Roseline, who was a member of the anti-sexual harassment committee, was coerced to blatantly lie and give false information to hush the matter.
The college also introduced a witness by the name of Ms Revathy Robert, who was not a witness to the Anti Sexual Harassment Committee. Revathy Robert, according to Josephine, deposed stating she was a former student of the college and was a staff in the college, whereas the truth is that she was never a former student nor a permanent staff of the College in the Department of Tamil, till Josephine was working in Loyola.
Josephine expressed shock at how Revathy Robert was rewarded by the college for speaking against her. The college, she said, provided Robert with permanent placement in the campus. Revathy Robert was now holding the post which Josephine held in the college’s Tamil department.
“This is a clear case of quid pro quo. The respondents have planted the witness and given her permanent employment in return”, lambasted the victim.
Basically, what Josephine Jeyashanthi alleged was that the Loyola college administration went all out to protect her sexual predators. They tried to mislead the judiciary by giving different versions to the court and the police.
On one hand, the Loyola College Secretary Rev Fr Albert Williams informed the court that the ‘verbal’ sexual harassment was made out by the internal complaints committee and that the college management imposed a punishment of ‘censure’ on Antony Rajarajan. They had submitted the punishment order copy of the punishment as proof. Josephine said that during the submission in court the college secretary artfully mentioned only ‘verbal’ harassment though the fact was that she was subjected to physical harassment also.
On the other hand, the college Secretary gave in writing to the police in response to the Criminal Original Petition that the ‘sexual harassment never happened’ and made false accusations saying that ‘Josephine and Rajarajan were good friends’ who got ‘separated due to some issue’. He reportedly told the police that Josephine “was trying to take revenge”.
Also, Josephine informed that the Loyola college management submitted the report of another committee headed by one Dr Soosai Sebastian SJ that enquired the corruption charges against Dr S A Rajarajan to the Police, hiding the official anti-sexual harassment committee original report. “The College management has manipulated the issue by giving the wrong report and has deliberately misguided the Police Department”, alleged the former lecturer of the college.
“I have sent an RTI application on December 18, 2018 to the Loyola College management asking for the certified copy of the report. The Central Information Commission has ruled that the copy of inquiry report should be provided to the appellant within 10 days as per Section 13 of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, if not in 48 hours, or at least in 30 days as prescribed under section 7(1) of RTI Act”.
“The public authority should provide information considering this as concerning life and liberty of the appellant. But the Management declined my request, violating the RTI rules and regulations. Finally, the report was submitted in the Madras High Court on December 19, 2018, and made public i.e. after 6 years of the submission of the report by the committee to the Management.
Along with the report, Loyola College Management submitted the copy of the punishment order dated January 3, 2014, given to Dr S A Rajarajan. In the order, it was stated that though the nature of charges are very serious and warrants a major punishment, the management considering Rajarajan’s long service decided to impose the punishment of ‘CENSURE’ on him.
Shocked at the college’s arbitrariness and non-seriousness in handling such a grave offence like sexual harassment, Josephine questioned whether it was okay on the colleges part to impose such a casual punishment on the accused.
Accused S A Rajarajan tries intimidating Josephine’s witness with defamation notice
The lady then went on to speak about Rajarajan’s arrogance, who under the college management’s protection, continued to harass her and her witnesses. The victim revealed how the accused ludicrously sent a legal notice to Dr Daniel, who is one of the witnesses in the Sexual Harassment Committee enquiry and shamelessly demanded Rs 25 lakhs as damages on account of loss of reputation and Rs 15 lakhs for mental stress, agony, mental harassment, and humiliation.
“Thus not only me, the witnesses were also threatened by the delinquent even after the so-called punishment of ‘Censure’ was given”, rued Josephine.
Madras High Court issued a ruling in Josephine’s favour
“The College management claims that they have imposed the punishment of censure on Dr S A Rajarajan on January 3, 2014. How come he had the courage to send legal notice to my witness on January 21, 2014 i.e. after 19 days of punishment, if he was given the punishment of censure as claimed by the college management?” enquired the enraged ex-lecturer.
On October 25, 2019, Justice Subramaniam Prasad in Madras High Court issued a ruling in Josephine’s favour, allowing her to initiate further action against the perpetrators in accordance with the law and to get mandamus for compensation, which she is entitled for according to Section 13 of Sexual Harassment Act 2013
On June 16, 2020, an interim order was issued, instructing Loyola College management to deny Antony Rajarajan any employment or retirement benefits and to compensate Josephine within 60 days. This, however, has not been done yet. Josephine has now placed her faith in the judicial system to get justice.
The list of offences committed by Loyola College in Josephine Jeyashanthi’s case
- Rajarajan began harassing Josephine Jeyashanthi in 2008 when he joined as HOD in the college’s Tamil Department and continued until Josephine was arbitrarily fired.
- The internal complaints body only took cognisance of Josephine’s accusation in December 2012. (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redress) Act 2013 states that an investigation into the complaint must be completed within 90 days).
- The Vishaka Guideline mandates that the grievance be addressed in a time-bound manner. However, it took 8 months to ‘censure’ the accused. Also, it took the college 6 years to submit the report to the court.
- The then Secretary Rev Fr M. Albert Williams SJ and the then Principal Rev Fr G Joseph Antonysamy SJ lied to the police.
- Most importantly, the prime accused Antony Rajarajan was not only protected by the Loyola College management but was also given privileges like superannuation with salary, while the victim was further victimised and terminated from the job without any sort of explanation and without even settling payments.
“I want to see these criminals behind bars”: the ex-lecturer of Loyola college Josephine Jeyashanthi
“The College Management claims that they followed ‘due process’. What is due process? Is keeping the victim of sexual harassment in dark about the whole proceedings due process? Is keeping the victim unaware of the punishment given to the offender due process? Is not giving any assurance of protection to the victim from such an offender due process?, said Josephine, adding that the accused, Rajarajan, who committed the heinous crime was not only protected by the management but also projected as flawless in the society, while she, who was victimised all throughout, was projected as the bigger offender.
“This resulted in the loss of career opportunities for me over these years. Even after terminating me, the management made deliberate attempts to malign my name among staff and the student community”, lamented Josephine, speaking to us about her future course of action.
“I want to see these criminals behind bars, I will drag them to court. They’ve been exploiting ladies like me for years. Many victims before me, and even after me, lacked the confidence to stand up to the big fishes. So many such cases are lying pending in the Madras High Court. Someone has to show these criminals their place”, said Josephine sharing with us that she plans to knock on the doors of the National Commission for Women and write to the state CM cell, urging it to take action against the college and its authorities.
She further said that she plans to file a criminal case against her perpetrators. “I want this to be a lesson for this and similar institutions which carry out such criminal activities with impunity and cleverly get away by using its ‘minority institution rights’ card. “Even I am from a minority Christian community, but this cannot be an excuse to carry out such heinous crimes. This gang of criminals have to be made to understand that they cannot misuse the power provided to them by the Indian constitution”, said Josephine, extremely disturbed, yet resolute to fight to get back her lost honour and respect.
OpIndia got in touch with former principal of Loyola College, Rev G Joseph Antony Samy
To dig into the case further, OpIndia got in touch with Rev G Joseph Antonysamy, who had allegedly continuously pressurised the victim to withdraw her complaint against Rajarajan and tried to mislead the judiciary by submitting contradictory statements to the police and court.
Interestingly, despite the Madras High Court giving an order in favour of Josephine on October 25, 2019, Rev G Joseph Antonysamy told OpIndia that the matter was sub-judice and he could not speak about it. On being persuaded, father Antony said that he was not aware of the case nor was he aware of what happened with Josephine Jeyashanthi.
When we questioned him about the allegations meted out at him by the victim, he outrightly denied it. He refused that he had pressurised Josephine to take back her complaint against A S Rajarajan. “I am a person who supports justice, I have never said anything. The inquiry was conducted by the college secretary, I was the principal and I knew nothing”, said Rev G Joseph Antonysamy, reiterating that he respects women and would never act in an unjust manner toward them.
In what appeared from the conversation with Rev G Joseph Antonysamy, that he was being evasive as he kept repeating that he did not know anything about the issue.
When we spoke to Fr Albert William, he too tried to evade the questions. He at first gave the same argument as Rev G Joseph Antonysamy of the matter being in court. When we reminded him that on October 25, 2019, Justice Subramaniam Prasad in Madras High Court issued a ruling in Josephine’s favour, he fumbled for a second, then said “You should talk to the current management”. When we further insisted, saying that he was the secretary of the college then. he said: “Please understand, at that time we took action against the both of them and now whatever the court judgement is, we will follow the judgement”, said Fr Albert William.
OpIndia also tried to contact the main accused S A Rajarajan, but despite several attempts, we could not get through to him.
Another woman accused Father Xavier Alphonse of Loyola College, Chennai of sexual harassment, college remains unbothered
Loyola College Chennai has been accused of turning a blind eye towards the innumerable instance of in campus sexual assault and harassment cases, mostly by senior professors or Jesuit priests. In July last year, the All India Christian Association (AICF), headed by Savio Rodrigues, had declared support of a victim who has allegedly been sexually harassed by the former Principal and Director of the Alumni Association of Loyola College in Chennai, Fr. Xavier Alphonse.
The victim, in this case, is reportedly a senior member of the faculty at the said college. As per the report, Loyola College has been non-cooperative in the victim’s fight for justice, thus compelling her to approach the Madras High Court in 2016. Even though the court had issued notices to Xavier Alphonse, yet he did not file a response in the past four years.
In December 2020, Loyola College had been asked by the Women’s Commission to pay the staffer Mary (name changed) to pay compensation amounting to Rs 64.3 lakh. This also covers remuneration for 81 months. As per the commission, the victim had a good track record in service and there was no reason her services should be terminated abruptly the way Loyola College did.
Loyola College Chennai under fire for displaying Hinduphobic Artwork
The college also came under fire in the year 2019 after it allowed the exhibition of blatant Hinduphobic artwork put in its premises as part of its cultural event Veedi Viruthu Vizha. The exhibits put on display bore derogatory drawings of the Hindu religion, PM Narendra Modi, Bharat Mata and Hindu organisations. Many people on social media had condemned the display of controversial artworks that mocked and showed Hindu ideologies and symbols in a derogatory manner.
The college tendered its apology for conducting such an event and hurting the sentiments of the people after the BJP state unit forewarned them of registering a complaint against them.