How TN IPS officer pursued sexual harassment case against ex-DGP despite pressure

Action against Rajesh Das was not entirely because the system chose to stand by the survivor, but because the woman ensured that her complaint couldn’t be dismissed, painful as it may have been.
Former Special DGP of Tamil Nadu Rajesh Das
Former Special DGP of Tamil Nadu Rajesh Das
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A court in Tamil Nadu convicted former Special Director General of Police of Tamil Nadu Rajesh Das for sexually harassing a woman IPS officer while on duty in 2021, to three years imprisonment and a fine. The court also imposed a fine on then Chengalpattu SP D Kannan for trying to block her car at the time. But the road to this semblance of justice was not easy for the survivor as many may assume, given she herself is a high-ranking police official. Immediately after the incident occurred in February 2021, there were multiple attempts by senior police officers — who was of the same rank as the survivor, and another Inspector General-level officer senior to her— to coerce her against submitting a complaint right away. 

The survivor was travelling in a vehicle along with Rajesh Das while providing security to the then Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami during his election campaign. The woman IPS officer had alleged that Rajesh Das had sexually harassed her in his vehicle. The two of them were travelling from Karur towards Ulundurpet, after Rajesh Das asked the survivor to accompany him in his vehicle, saying she would be dropped midway at Perambalur. 

Following the incident of sexual harassment, the survivor managed to leave in another vehicle, and on her way from Perambalur to Chennai, she drafted a complaint against Das to hand over to the DGP. It was at this stage that the attempts to dissuade her began by seniors within the department. A government lawyer had earlier told TNM that the survivor sent the complaint to the jurisdictional police officers via WhatsApp while she was travelling to Chennai in the car. This became a crucial aspect in ensuring that she did not delay her complaint, before the eyes of the law. This also helped negate the claims of her case being fake, which were later raised by the accused. 

The woman officer had alleged that during her travel to Chennai in the said car itself, she had started receiving phone calls from Das and other police officers, which she did not attend. According to a suo motu writ petition taken up by the Madras High Court, at this stage, the woman officer’s car was intercepted at the Paranur toll gate by a large contingent of police headed by then Chengalpattu SP D Kannan. 

An Inspector and an SI who were part of a striking force then seized the keys to her car, while she was inside. She was then forced to talk to Das who tried to persuade her not to go ahead with her complaint.  

"The female IPS officer refused to do this and said that she would have to complain to higher authorities regarding this forced halt and threat, following which he returned the keys," a senior IPS officer had told TNM soon after the incident came to light. The IG-level officer too allegedly called the survivor and tried to dissuade her from filing the complaint.

In March 2021, the Madras High Court had observed how lodging the complaint has been such an arduous experience for her, despite being a senior police officer. “It took so much struggle for a police officer of that rank, even to give a complaint to the DGP, Chennai. This Court shudders to think as to what would have happened if the victim was an officer belonging to a lower cadre as that of a Sub-inspector or constable of Police. Probably, it would have become impossible for such an officer to have even given a complaint in this case. If that is the position in which lady officers are placed, it is hard to think as to what will happen if such a sexual harassment had taken place on an ordinary lady with no background,” Justice N Anand Venkatesh had said.

The accused Rajesh Das had also filed multiple petitions. He initially challenged the Villupuram court’s jurisdiction and went to the High Court. When the High Court rejected his petition, he went to the Supreme Court, but got no relief. He also approached the Supreme Court to move the trial out of Tamil Nadu and appealed against his suspension before the Central Administrative Tribunal, calling the sexual harassment allegations a move to stifle his promotion at work. 

This is not the first time that a woman police officer in Tamil Nadu has complained of sexual harassment from a senior police official. In 2018, a woman police officer had accused Tamil Nadu police officer S Murugan, Joint Director in the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), of sexual harassment. The alleged harasser remained in his official post for about 13 months after the woman complained before being transferred. The case did not reach anywhere, unlike the situation with the one against Rajesh Das. 

Action against Rajesh was not entirely because this time the system chose to stand by the survivor, but because the woman thoughtfully ensured that her complaint couldn’t be dismissed, painful as it may have been to think so far ahead amidst the trauma of sexual harassment. 

Ensuring justice is upon the justice system. But what this probably tells us is also that while navigating a flawed system that often sides with powerful harassers, survivors are tested to extreme levels, warranting prudence even when they may want to just shut down. 

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