With the ruling CPM taking serious note of her seemingly insensitive remarks to a domestic violence victim, Kerala Women's Commission chairperson M C Josephine issued an apology late on Thursday.
During a phone-in programme organised by Manorama News against dowry (‘Enthinu Sahikkanam’/Why suffer?) on Thursday, Josephine seemed highly intolerant towards a woman participant who had called into the programme. Right from the start, Josephine sounded impatient. That she was not able to hear the caller clearly seemed to add to her discomfort. When the caller said that she had not complained to the police, Josephine said "then it is better that you suffer".
Such a dismissive treatment of a domestic violence victim triggered widespread protest. The opposition called for Josephine's immediate removal. Sources said the CPM, too, was deeply dissatisfied with Josephine. The party has also decided to take up the issue at the CPM state secretariat to be held on June 25. Just when it seemed action was imminent, Jospehine issued the apology.
"It is true that I had spoken to the woman with a freedom that mothers normally take," Josephine said. "It was the outrage I felt at the victim not registering a police complaint that made me speak those words. But later I realised that I should not have said that. If my words were hurtful, I apologise for what I said," she said.
The Women's Commission chairperson also said she was in a troubled state of mind as both a mother and a woman after the recent incidents of violence against women. "The channel had asked whether I could participate in this programme against dowry. Though it was a busy day, I agreed," Josephine said in her apology.
She said an Ernakulam native called her and talked about her domestic issues. "Since she was talking in a low voice, I could not hear her properly. I asked her whether she could speak louder. It was then that she said she had not complained to the police," she said.
Earlier in the day, Josephine had denied that she spoke inappropriately to the woman.
Sack Josephine: K K Rema
Josephine’s comment attracted widespread condemnation. K K Rema, the opposition MLA from Vadakara, said in a Facebook post that Josephine should be removed from her post for insulting the complainant. “Women’s Commission was formed even while legal institutions such as the judiciary and the police existed. Along with SC/ST and human rights panels, the Women’s Commission came into force realizing that people on the sidelines of mainstream society found it hard to obtain justice from the established legal system. Moreover, the costs involved are very high. So, it is the duty of the Women’s Commission to offer support and confidence to ordinary women facing injustice,” said Rema.
Nothing ‘Fine’ about Josephine: Balram
Congress leader V T Balram also came out against the women’s panel chief, saying that there was nothing ‘fine’ about her. He also pointed out that Josephine was behaving in a similar manner over the last four-and-a-half years. “However, some Left supporters are criticizing her statement now, after remaining quiet over the last four-and-a-half years. They have an agenda. It is a preparation to post ‘Hail Pinarayi’ comments on social media during her likely removal, which could take place anytime,” he said.
An anti-women’s panel chief: Shafi
Another leader to attack Josephine over her comment is Shafi Parambil, the Congress MLA from Palakkad. “She is acting as the chief of an anti-women’s commission and should be removed from the post,” said the state Youth Congress chief.
Social media witnessed a furore over Josephine's behaviour with even pro-Left handles coming out against her.
Senior Congress leader Bindhu Krishna said it is "a shocking response" from a person who has to take care of the harassed and since that has not happened, she has to quit.
"I have raised a complaint against Josephine at the Kerala Women's Commission demanding action against her for her intimidatory response to a hapless woman. The complaint has been emailed," said Krishna.
KPCC president Sudhakaran said Josephine should quit and if she does not, she should be removed as this is not the way a responsible person should behave.
Senior BJP leader and former Commission member Pramila Devi said it is a shameful that a person who has to take care of rights and protection of women in Kerala reacts in such a brash manner.
The controversy comes amid recent cases of young married women committing suicides after being harassed at their husband's home for more dowry being reported across the state.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also stepped in and appointed a special officer and also announced a special helpline for harassed women to call in and complain.