On April 30, Kerala Kaumudi newspaper issued an order terminating the services of its employee M Radhakrishnan after an internal inquiry into the charge that he had forced into the house of a woman colleague during odd hours on November 30, 2019, and accused her of having an illicit relationship with a male colleague.
Earlier, two other inquiry panels had found Radhakrishnan guilty of moral policing, and his version false. One panel constituted by Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) and the other by Thiruvananthapuram Press Club – the victim and the accused were members of both these journalist bodies. The police had also slapped both bailable and grievous non-bailable criminal charges on him.
The fact-finding panel, made up of male and female journalists of repute, had recommended Radhakrishnan's removal from these journalist bodies. Consequent to the report, the KUWJ expelled Radhakrishnan from its primary membership – the union had placed him under suspension the day (December 3, 2019) the victim filed a complaint with the police.
The Press Club, however, reacted differently. Despite the guilty verdict of its inquiry panel, Radhakrishnan continues to be its secretary, the highly influential Press Club's most powerful member.
Following this, the Kerala Chapter of Network of Women in Media India (NWMI) had recently given a statement alerting ministers and senior politicians from sharing the stage with the Press Club secretary. The CPM's women wing, All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), had also questioned the ethics of retaining Radhakrishnan as Press Club secretary.
Conflict of interest
According to Radhakrishnan, the Press Club committee that filed the report against him was appointed by a dissident group, which had no legal backing.
“The real management committee had constituted a panel to look into the issue and its members had talked to over 20 witnesses and had exonerated me of all charges,” Radhakrishnan told Onmanorama. This committee was formed during the Press Club managing committee meeting on December 5, 2019, five days after the incident.
The allegation of moral policing against its secretary, Radhakrishnan, was the second agenda of the meeting. After deciding to constitute a probe committee, the meeting asked Radhakrishnan to temporarily cease functioning as secretary till the probe was over; he was neither suspended nor removed. The probe was to be completed within 15 days, and a general body was scheduled to discuss the report on December 21.
However, Radhakrishnan reassumed full charge five days later on December 10. So when this Press Club committee was probing the charges, the accused himself was in charge of the Club.
Press Club president Sonichan P Joseph said the committee had submitted the report to him. Sonichan, however, did not reveal the contents of the report. When asked whether it was favourable to Radhakrishnan, the president said he was not aware of the findings. “The report will be considered by the general body of the Press Club,” Sonichan said. “I am also of the view that Radhakrishnan should be punished if found guilty,” he said.
Even without reading its content, it is easy to conclude that this 'legal panel' has violated the cardinal principle of natural justice. It has not heard the victim.
“A notice was sent to her but I was told she was not cooperating,” Sonichan said. The panel, however, went ahead and submitted its report without taking the victim's statement.
Justice Verma Committee, which recommended amendments to the criminal justice law after the Nirbhaya rape case in 2012, had laid down this fundamental principle that should guide all investigations into women harassment. “In determining whether the behaviour or act complained of is unwelcome, one of the factors to be given due weight shall be the subjective perception of the complainant.” Meaning, the victim's version should be given importance.
Reason for non-cooperation
The victim agreed that she had refused to cooperate with the committee. "Most of the members were closely identified with Radhakrishnan. I feared injustice would be done to me," the victim told Onmanorama.
The committee's first move also felt deeply unsettling to the victim. She was summoned to the house of the inquiry committee's chairperson. She refused. The other two committees – of KUWJ and the first one set up by the Press Club – had visited the victim at her house.
There was yet another development that showed that the victim's concerns were valid. One of the female journalists appointed to the 'legal panel' refused to be part of it saying its composition favoured Radhakrishnan. Also, the journalist's permission was not sought before she was appointed. The Kerala chapter of Network of Women in Media India (NWMI) had also objected to the constitution of the panel.
The victim said she was willing to cooperate with any panel, provided the members were neutral. “It wouldn't have bothered me even if I knew none of them. They just had to be open,” she said.
Listening to and ignoring the victim
This was how another probe panel, with five senior journalists from prominent dailies and channels, was constituted. This was the panel that found Radhakrishnan guilty, and which Radhakrishnan said had no legal backing.
The members met the victim at her house. “It was only when we talked to her that we realised the horror of her situation," said Jisha Surya, a member of this Press Club committee.
Listening to the victim made the difference. “I had talked to her and her husband and that is precisely why I stand by them,” said senior journalist B Sreejan who was part of the KUWJ's fact-finding mission.
A female KUWJ panel member said: “After listening to her, it was hard for me to look at her face.”
Another senior journalist and then acting Press Club secretary Sabloo Thomas made what looked like an impulsive decision on December 9, 2019. He found a way to bypass established norms and expelled Radhakrishnan from the primary membership of the club.
The dominant faction in the Press Club found his actions violative of the bylaw and Sabloo's decision was quickly overturned. He was dragged to the court also for this action. On March 26 this year, the additional munsiff court in Thiruvananthapuram, without going into the moral policing issue, found Sabloo's administrative moves an overreach.
When asked why he acted in a seemingly rash manner, Sabloo said: “The victim's husband had called me and what he said was very convincing. I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”
Asked whether, as the president of the club, he had heard the victim, one of the 600-odd members of the club he leads, Sonichan said no.
Accused claims injustice
If the Press Club's 'legal panel' did not talk to the victim, Radhakrishnan said the KUWJ committee had not bothered to talk to him. “The KUWJ cobbled up a committee in haste and they decided to expel me without hearing my side,” Radhakrishnan said.
A female member of the KUWJ panel said Radhakrishnan's remark was misleading. “We were very particular that we should function in an unbiased manner. We kept sending Radhakrishnan summons but he did not respond. Once we even handed over our summons to him in person. When we found he was unwilling to appear before us, we asked him to mail us his version. Even this he did not do,” the journalist said.
Nonetheless, Radhakrishnan visited the house of the panel's chairperson Sarita Varma, unbidden, and gave his side of the story. The chairperson's impression of the encounter is recorded in the KUWJ inquiry report. “M Sarita Varma, who had heard him patiently on December 14 (2019), reported to the panel that he did not display much remorse about the incident.”
Radhakrishnan had also ignored the summons of the Press Club panel appointed by the 'dissident group'. “We tried our best to get him to talk to us and when we realised he would not we decided to consider as his version the long mail he had sent all club members a few days after the incident,” Jisha said.
This message, sent to the group mail of the Press Club members on December 4, 2019, is supposed to be Radhakrishnan's declaration of innocence.
In the letter, Radhakrishnan describes the victim as his little sister and speaks of how he silenced onlookers who wanted to play moral police. But this 'Big Brother' theory of Radhakrishnan has a problem. It is built on the assumption of immorality. He has assumed, without any basis, that the victim was having an illicit affair.
See how he begins his long email defence. “To cover the shame of two people there is a strong conspiracy to victimise many others.” Fact is, Radhakrishnan possesses no evidence to claim the victim was doing something shameful in her house.
Talking to this correspondent, Radhakrishnan referred to the victim's male friend as 'jaaran' (secret lover). On asking him on what basis he called the man so. “Sorry,” he quickly said. “I understand it is not the right word to use.” Asked whether he had any first-hand evidence that suggested improper behaviour, Radhakrishnan said, “No”.
In the letter this is what Radhakrishnan says he told the people assembled in front of the victim's house. "She is my little sister. Please treat this issue the way you would have had such a mishap (apakadam) happened in my house. I also told them that the issue should end right here." In effect, he was pleading with the crowd not to embarrass the woman further.
Question is, why would Radhakrishnan think that the victim would be embarrassed by her friendship with a male colleague?
The victim and her husband, in separate conversations with this correspondent, said the male friend was asked to buy some chart and drawing papers. “My son liked to draw but on that day I forgot to buy him the drawing papers that I had promised him,” the victim said. “My son is very fussy and hyper active, he keeps insisting till he gets what he wants. Since my husband was on the night shift, I called up my friend and asked him to buy some chart papers. He came home to give us these papers,” she said. The male friend is an artist.
When things got out of control, the victim called up her husband. Radhakrishnan tried to dissuade her. “I feared it would be devastating for him,” Radhakrishnan said.
But the victim asked her husband to quickly come over. Before he could reach home, Radhakrishnan met him along the alleyway that led to his house. “He told me that I don't have to go to my house and that he would manage everything. I told him not to worry. If it was my family problem I know how to manage it,” the husband said.
He reached his house to witness a small crowd. “I asked what the problem was. I was told my friend was inside my house. I told them he is a close family friend and that he is a regular visitor. I also told them he teaches my child to draw,” the victim's husband said.
Aneesh, one of the four people besides Radhakrishnan to witness the incident, said that the husband said this with such calm that the people there would have felt ashamed of themselves. “I felt really bad,” he said. Radhakrishnan, too, said the husband's words were enough for the group to quickly vanish from the scene.
However, Radhakrishnan's version of the incident does not tally with not just the victim's but also the versions of two witnesses, Aneesh and Hari.
Radhakrishnan said that he rushed to the colony, where he also lives, because he got a call from one of the residents saying a man who claims to be working with the Kerala Kaumudi had been apprehended from the area.
Upon reaching the place, he said he found an angry crowd blocking the way of his colleague. He said he only tried to calm the crowd and prevent them from acting as moral vigilantes. Radhakrishnan said he had not entered the house as alleged by the victim.
The victim said she had opened the door after hearing loud knocks. Her children were having dinner. When she opened, Radhakrishnan barged in with two others, forcibly pulling along her friend who was detained outside.
The friend was forced into a seat in the front room and beaten by the person who came in with Radhakrishnan. The victim objected but according to her, Radhakrishnan pushed her and her two children into the bedroom and tried to lock her from outside.
Along with Indian Penal Code sections 354 (wrongful confinement), 143 and 149 (unlawful assembly), and 451 (house trespass), sections 354 (assault on women to outrage her modesty) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) have also been slapped on Radhakrishnan in the police FIR. He was arrested on December 6, 2019, and later released on bail.
She said Radhakrishnan also kept telling her to confess. “He said now only a few people know of this and said that if I admitted to what I have done he would make sure that no other families in the area will know of this. He said my husband would also not be told of this,” the victim said. She immediately called her husband.
Cracks in Radhakrishnan's version
Aneesh, one of the witnesses, corroborated the victim's version. He said he was brought to the place by Radhakrishnan. Another witness, Hari, also said he arrived at the scene after Radhakrishnan reached the place, and he too was called to the place on Radhakrishnan's instruction. So, Radhakrishnan's statement that a crowd was already in front of the house and that he called no one sounds false.
“I was standing outside my house, waiting for a friend, when Radhakrishnan 'maman' came along and asked me to go with him,” Aneesh said. “I did not know what was happening when I entered the house. But when I saw the lawyer's son (Ashwin) slap a person seated on a chair inside the house, I quickly went out of the house. It was only then that I realised what the issue was,” Aneesh said.
From inside the house, he said he could hear Radhakrishnan's loud voice and the cries of the children. That night itself, Aneesh apologised to the man who was slapped. “I collected the victim's husband's number from him and apologised to him also,” he said.
After the incident, the troubled behaviour of the victim's son intensified. “He became more frightful. He doesn't even allow me to open the door when the calling bell rings,” the victim said. The boy was later diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and is now under treatment.
Hari, the other witness, said he was at a wedding house when he got repeated calls from Ashwin (the man accused in the police FIR of slapping the victim's male friend). “When I reached the colony and asked him why he kept calling me, he said Radhakrishnan had told him to,” Hari said.
The victim said in times of solitude she would feel a sense of outrage and would keep repeating to herself the questions she would want to hurl at Radhakrishnan if ever she got a chance. Such a chance came her way during the internal enquiry conducted by Kerala Kaumudi. “I never thought I had the strength to ask him these questions. But I asked him with my face held high,” she said. Radhakrishnan, too, was allowed to cross-examine the victim.
In the termination notice served to Radhakrishnan on April 30, the Kerala Kaumudi management says: “The acts committed by you are very serious and grave. There is no justification for entering into the house of a female employee during night making allegation of illicit relation...”