Kerala journos vote a harasser to victory, what were they thinking?

M Radhakrishnan, who was arrested and lost his job for barging into a woman colleague’s home and harassing her, has been elected as the president of Thiruvananthapuram Press Club.
M Radhakrishnan
M Radhakrishnan
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If at all, M Radhakrishnan, once a proofreader with a Malayalam daily, had doubts about his conduct on the night of November 30, 2019, it would all be removed now. That night, when he took on the role of a “moral warrior” of journalists, barging into the house of a woman colleague with a small army of men, Radhakrishnan might have felt it was in his rights to do so – harass a woman he worked with for years, slap a visitor at her house, traumatise her little kids. All this, in the name of “righteousness,” dictated by the laws of patriarchy. What followed after the incident, including his arrest and loss of his job, should have put some sense in him of what he did wrong. Or so, you would hope. But after the night of October 23, all such hopes would be quelled. Journalists in Thiruvananthapuram, numbering hundreds, voted him in as president of their prestigious Press Club. Barring one, everyone in his panel also won.

It shocked some of us, even though it shouldn’t have. The attitude of those who could have made a difference, by signing a paper of dismissal, by quietly removing the weed in the lawn, had never been encouraging. After the fateful November night in 2019, it took days for any sort of action against the harasser. He was then the secretary of the Thiruvananthapuram Press Club. Women journalists had to walk through city roads and shout slogans of protest outside the club for the men inside to hold a meeting and press for any action at all. We sat outside the Press Club office asking for justice. One of us went inside and presented a bottle of cow-dung water to mark our protest. Reluctantly, but forced to because of all the negative attention it was bringing the club, Radhakrishnan was suspended. Temporarily, it would seem. Brandishing his winning smile, he came back soon enough to reclaim his position, wielding a court order that was much wrongly interpreted.

Neither the arrest before that nor the later dismissal from Kerala Kaumudi – the newspaper he worked with for years – appears to have deterred him or his coterie of supporters. That an accused in a case of harassing a woman at her home could be allowed to run for the highest post at the Press Club was in itself damaging; an insult in black and white, not just to the survivor, but all women who work in the field. It is a telling message that this is how women journalists will be treated now and forever, as long as they – Radhakrishnan and his team – have the power. As it happens in all such senseless divisions though, there were women vouching for Radhakrishnan, as there were men hanging their heads down in shame at his victory.  

Protest by women journalists at Press Club in 2019

But it would seem harassment and ill-treatment of women, despite court cases against it, rarely breaks the support system of the perpetrators. Look around you. Whether it is the larger organisation of all the actors in Malayalam cinema, or a smaller body of journalists in the capital district, it’s the same rule – a rule that simply seems to say, “we don’t care what happened to the woman who suffered, we’d still stand with the smiling villain because…” And it’s a “because” that’s hard to guess. Because you owe him favours? Because he’s popular, albeit for the wrong reasons? Because you want to join his house-barging exercises? And in this case, because he promised free kits of laddus every Christmas and Deepavali?

It is hard to guess, like I say, to understand what possible reason could drive them to not just vote for the bully but also aggressively support him. Perhaps they didn’t see in their slips the names of the panelists but a message that said, this is your chance to stamp down on women’s rights, go right ahead. It has been whispered that several male journalists were “angry” with their women counterparts who took the fight to the street and wanted to “teach the women a lesson.” Strange teaching methods they have, viz. voting for someone who could at any moment he fancied run into the flat of a woman and terrorise little children.

Once the results were announced late Saturday night, there were hoots of joy, photoshoots, happy smiles – celebrating the victory of revenge, of “showing women their place”. For they have been asked to do just that haven’t they, voted to power for it.

Even so, you can take some joy from the fact that the fight lasted so long and will continue to do so. That no Radhakrishnans will anymore walk away thinking they can do what they please with women and nothing will happen to them. If the fight was given up after the first little failure, there’d be more men sprouting like him, thinking it is fine to play the villain in other people’s homes, invade their privacy and reduce their mental peace to bits. The Saturday election is disappointing, but it is no end to the long tunnel of fights for rights. As one among the rebels, I can proudly say brave women journalists of Thiruvananthapuram and the men in solidarity will go on with this fight.

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