In what comes as a significant victory for a woman who was employed at the Loyola College in Chennai, the state Women's Commission has found merit in her allegations against the institute and has ordered that she be compensated for the trauma endured. The survivor, Catherine* had complained to the commission in November this year that she had faced harassment from the institute after she complained about abuse and harassment from Father Xavier Alphonse SJ, the Director of the Alumni association. The survivor has accused the institute of stonewalling her for almost a decade and had approached the Madras High court.
The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, headed by Chairperson Kannegi Packianathan, conducted an inquiry at the institute, based on the allegations submitted by the survivor in November. On December 15, the members of the Commission visited the institute in person, after the current Rector of the Loyola College Society, Francis P Xavier expressed his inability to respond to summons given his old age and the risk to exposure of COVID-19.
What are the allegations against Loyola college?
Catherine* says she first started facing problems at the institute a decade ago. She had been appointed as an administrator in the college. According to her petition to the Madras High Court in 2016, trouble began six months after she began her duties. She questioned the alleged dubious methods used by the then Director of the Alumni Association Father Xavier Alphonse SJ, to siphon off amounts close to about Rs.1 Crore and diverting them to a personal trust. She also accused him of misusing the scholarship scheme by the college. Catherine says that she brought these matters to the notice of college principal, following which the Director's financial powers were curtailed.
As a retribution for her actions, the Director then allegedly began harassing her. In her petition to both the Commission and the court, Catherine says that beyond making her shift departments, there was no action taken against the Director. No inquiry was conducted into the matter nor was an internal complaints committee formed to investigate the harassment further.
Finally in September 2014, the Rector allegedly told Catherine to stop coming to work and said that she would report back after the accused was 'moved' from the college. She was allegedly assured that her salary for the period of absence will be paid as soon as she resumes duty. Father Xavier Alphonese was moved to another Jesuit college in Trichy but the institute allegedly stopped responding to Catherine's communications after this and she was not called to rejoin duties.
"I am a regular employee of the second respondent (Loyola College) and hence my services cannot be terminated abruptly without any enquiry or show cause notice more particularly when the second respondent has not issued any written order of termination," she alleged in her petition to the Madras High Court.
How did Loyola respond?
The response to Catherine's allegations in the Madras High Court came only in 2020. Both the alleged harasser and the institute submitted separate counter affidavits.
The institute claimed that Catherine was appointed on a contractual basis and that she was relieved from her service. It further stated that she was terminated from the job on September 20, this year. They also denied allegations of 'slumber, indifference, harassment and embezzlement of funds'.
Their response further maintained that Catherine had not preferred any complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee or any other authority alleging sexual harassment.
The alleged harasser too submitted that Catherine's transfer to another department was because her services were not required at the Alumni Association. He further termed allegations of sexual harassment as 'false and mischievous'.
Several of the claims made by the institute and the accused were however found to be incorrect, by the Women's commission.
What the Women's Commission found
"As per the rules, the college has to inform the Directorate of Collegiate Education whenever a staff of the college has been terminated but no such official letter has been sent," says the Commission's report, filed on December 22. "The Commission found that her track record was very good and there was no reason for terminating her service. It was very clear that Loyola college has abruptly stopped her from work deliberately," notes the report.
The commission viewed the matter as a distressing case for a senior citizen and stated that she produced proof of her salary as well.
"For the kind of trauma and physical and sexual abuse she has been submitted to, she has to be adequately compensated, expeditiously," stated the report. "Catherine has been subjected to intense suffering which must be alleviated immediately. The commission hereby orders to pay back wages and compensation with interest for harassment mentally and sexually," it orders.
Catherine has requested for a total compensation of Rs 64 lakh of which 24 lakh is her pending salary from April 2014, Rs.25 lakh towards compensation for mental agony, unkind words and seuxal harassment and Rs.15 lakhs for the alleged false complaint filed by the institute against her son.
But the fight is not over
Catherine is still fighting her case against the institute in the Madras High Court. The last hearing was on December 18 and the next is scheduled for January 18.
The survivorâ€™s son alleges that a systemic indifference to the plight of women employees has led to this situation.
â€śThe management of Loyola College, Chennai believe that they are above the concept of Social Justice and that because of the power that they possess, they can defraud every employee of theirs by denying them their basic entitlements. There is neither a letter of termination or dismissal and false statements are made on oath by Priests that her services were terminated which is nothing short of perjury and when the Commission for Women asked for the Termination Order, their lies were exposed,â€ť he tells TNM. â€śWhen exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime, you are being ruled by criminals.â€ť
Loyola college declined to comment and stated that the matter is sub-judice.
*Name changed to protect identity