The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is facing a serious credibility crisis in Kerala for the way it responded to two sexual abuse complaints against its leaders.
The party has been accused of going soft on a complaint against its legislator and senior leader from Palakkad district, PK Sasi, despite receiving a complaint from a senior woman leader of the party’s youth wing more than six months ago. Some top party leaders are reported to have asked the woman to withdraw the complaint.
In contrast, the party suspended a lower-level leader from neighbouring Thrissur district, Jeevanlal, for one year from its primary membership following a complaint of sexual abuse two months ago.
Sasi is a senior member of the party and holds important position in the district committee of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. Jeevanlal is the Irinjalakuda block committee president of youth wing Democratic Youth Federation of India.
The CPI(M)‘s inept handling of the allegations has raised concerns about its commitment to ensuring justice to the victims of sexual abuse.
This is in sharp contrast to the assurance given by the Chief Minister and senior party leader Pinarayi Vijayan in July this year that his government would strongly deal with atrocities against women. “We are committed to ensuring punishment to those who abuse women,” he had said. “We will not spare abusers even if they are highly influential. The government will stand with victims.”
PK Sasi represents Shornur Assembly constituency in Palakkad district. He is a member of the party’s district committee.
The woman who alleged sexual abuse also happens to be a senior party leader. She has not lodged a police complaint so far. When no action was taken against her oral complaint of January, she made a written complaint to the district and state leadership of the party in the first week of August. She also sent a copy of it to the party’s politburo member Brinda Karat.
Malayala Manorama, a leading Malayalam newspaper, reported on Wednesday that the woman’s written complaint alleged that the first instance of abuse was in December last year at a party office, followed by regular abusive phone calls. She asked the party leadership, the report said, to act against Sasi and ensure her protection. While there was no action on the complaint, Sasi launched a character assassination campaign against the woman, the report said.
After waiting for a month in which no action was taken against Sasi, the woman sent the complaint to the party general secretary Sitaram Yechury on September 3.
On September 4, Yechury confirmed having received the complaint the previous day. “As soon as I received it, it was sent to the Kerala state committee,” he told reporters in New Delhi. “They have initiated the process of inquiring into it. That is our normal practice.” Yechury also said the state unit would send a report. “Then it has been sent there. They will look into it. It will be acted upon.”
“I do not know,” said Yechury’s predecessor, former party general secretary Prakash Karat, when asked to comment on the complaint.
However, the politburo of the CPI(M), the party’s powerful decision making body, appeared to contradict Yechuri in a statement issued later in the day:
“Some media reports have appeared that on a complaint from Kerala regarding an elected representative, the Party Centre has intervened and given direction on the action to be taken. There has been no such intervention from the Centre and this is a baseless report. All such complaints, as is the normal practice, will be dealt with by the concerned state committee; in this instance, the Kerala State Committee.”
After all the action in Delhi, the Kerala leadership finally stepped in to acknowledge for the first time that it had received the woman’s complaint three weeks ago.
State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the state committee of the party would take appropriate action. He did not specify what that action would be but alleged that the sexual abuse controversy was an attempt to tarnish the image of the state government that had effectively managed the floods.
The party formed a two-member commission on the same day to inquire into the allegations against Sasi, state leaders said.
Meanwhile, Sasi insisted that the complaint was part of a conspiracy against him. “I am ready to face the inquiry as a true communist,” he said.
Insiders point out that the party did not spend much time in deliberations or inquiries to suspend the lower-level leader Jeevanlal.
A party functionary in Thrissur said on condition of anonymity that the sexual abuse complaint against Jeevanlal was received on August 12. “The party discussed the complaint after the floods. The decision to suspend was taken on September 3 and it was ratified by the district committee on September 5,” he said.
Asked about how the decision was taken so quickly, he said the CPI(M) never delayed action on sexual abuse complaints. “We act as quickly as we can to ensure justice to victims,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Kattoor police in Thrissur district registered a case against Jeevanlal on September 5 under section 354 of Indian Penal Code for assaulting a woman with intent to outrage her modesty. “He is still at large,” said a police official.