Meghalaya Governor V Shanmuganathan’s resignation late on Thursday came three days after a banner report on the front page of a Shillong newspaper alleged that he had sexually harassed a young woman who had been called for an interview regarding a job vacancy at Raj Bhavan last month.
Two days later, the Indian Express reported that over 80 Raj Bhavan staff had sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee in which they levelled a series of allegations against Shanmuganathan for inappropriate behaviour with the female staff of his official residence. The employees alleged that Shanmuganathan had turned Raj Bhavan into a “young ladies club”, and further accused him of compromising its security.
Shanmuganathan, 68, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak, was appointed Meghalaya governor in May 2015, and was also holding additional charge of Arunachal Pradesh.
The broad outline of the allegations against Shanmuganathan is that a young woman, who applied for the post of public relations officer at Raj Bhavan was called to the governor’s office at 7 pm on December 8 for a personal interaction with him. The woman had already appeared for an interview before a full board and was shortlisted for the job along with six other young women. The allegation is that at the meeting with the governor, he misbehaved with her.
So far, the woman in question has not filed any complaint with the police or with the Meghalaya State Women’s Commission. She had, however, sent text messages of her experience at Raj Bhavan to a journalist friend, who also appeared for the same job interview. The screenshots of those messages were released to media houses in Meghalaya earlier this week.
According to the messages, the governor hugged the job applicant, kissed her on the cheeks, asked if she had a boyfriend and also told her that she looked like Hindi film actress Deepika Padukone.
One message from the woman in question to the journalist read: “It’s like he called us based on our looks and why should he compliment me on my face? I don’t know how to react. It’s such a weird feeling. I feel like crying….”
The young woman told this writer that she had shared the messages with the journalist in confidence and never imagined that her friend would turn it into news.
However, the letter by Raj Bhavan staff in which staffers accused the governor of “seriously compromising” the dignity of his office made his continuation as governor untenable.
When allegations of the molestation first emerged, counter-allegations were made that it was a political ploy to deflect the attention of the public from a case of rape of a minor by an independent MLA, who supports Meghalaya’s Congress government. The MLA, Julius Dorphang, a former militant leader who surrendered in 2007 and was pardoned by the state, was arrested on January 6 on charges of raping a minor girl on two occasions. Several other people have been arrested in connection with the case, which appears to be part of a human trafficking racket.
The alleged rape of the minor girl is believed to have occurred in a guest house run by the son of Meghalaya Home Minister HDR Lyngdoh and led to protests in the state, with women’s groups demanding that Lyngdoh step down. They claimed that it was impossible that Lyngdoh was unaware that his son’s guest house was being used for a human trafficking racket.
Questions were also raised as to why the journalist, who released the messages the alleged victim sent her, waited till January to do so.
Since the journalist in question was also one of the applicants for the job at Raj Bhavan, some saw a conflict of interest in the journalist’s decision to make public the private messages that the alleged victim had sent her.
Earlier, the governor denied any wrongdoing, stating to the media that he only hugged the young lady as he would his granddaughter.
However, according to the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, any inappropriate touch or suggestive words used by a person in authority in interactions with women is considered to be sexual harassment. So whatever Shanmuganathan’s defence, it would have been difficult for him to continue as governor especially after the allegations levelled by the Raj Bhavan staff.
When Shanmuganathan took over as governor, he informed everyone he met that as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak he had spent his life fighting dowry, and that he worked tirelessly to empower the women in his home state of Tamil Nadu. Even though the allegations against him are yet to be proved in a court of law, his claims now ring hollow.
The writer is editor, The Shillong Times.