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Is woman's dignity a party matter?

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Is womans dignity a party matter?
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National Commission for Women (NCW) has suo motu registered a case against CPI (M) Shoranur MLA P K Sasi for sexual assault.

With the complaint levelled against a senior CPM leader from Palakkad district by a woman leader of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) coming to light, there have been demands to take action against the leader who is a public servant and a peoples' representative. However, there have been attempts to paper over the issue in which a party worker has complained to the national secretary against a senior leader, as a party matter. DGP Loknath Behera has handed over the complaint filed by Kerala Students Union (KSU) and Yuva Morcha outfits against the MLA to the Range IG.

Given the nature of the sexual assault cases, the MLA should have been booked in the case. The complaints against the MLA are more serious than the case which trapped a member of the LDF government last year. It was during the tenure of the LDF government that prominent film actor Dileep was arrested and jailed for 88 days in the sexual assault case of another female actor and Kovalam MLA was arrested and imprisoned for 34 days for inappropriate behaviour on phone towards a housewife, who was also his neighbour. The ruling parties had taken to protest demanding the arrest of the Congress MLA. The legislators belonging to the party who backed the accused actor were also reprimanded. However, the CPM which leads the state government has not been displaying such enthusiasm in this case. Also the party organisation and senior ministers are bent upon protecting the accused. The opposition parties are set to organise a protest demanding a fair probe against the legislator. In yet another similar sexual harassment case, a DYFI leader from Irinjalakkuda, Thrissur has been suspended from the party's primary membership for a year. The party level inquiry and action came after the victim's mother filed a complaint with the local committee against the leader who had served as the local committee member, branch secretary and block Panchayat joint secretary of the CPM youth wing. The police has registered a non-balilable case against the person. The party which took swift action against the youth leader has been turning a blind eye, when it came to the Shoranur ML's case. The CPM has been trying to protect a criminal accused by citing purely technical excuses.

The harassed woman lodged a complaint with the party's district committee with evidence. When that was ignored, she approached the state secretary and then a woman member of the Polit Bureau. It is when all of this turned futile that she made a complaint to the party's top leadership of the party, and the General Secretary confirmed receipt of the complaint. Even earlier, complaints about harassment of women were raised against Marxist party's leaders. In such instances earlier against district secretaries of Kannur and Ernakulam, both leaders were removed from party offices. Now, it is the party's female victim who filed a direct complaint to the leadership about attempted harassment. When a case of alleged criminal offence came before it, hushing it up and then waiting for the party's decision - instead of referring it to the police - is an act that challenges the justice system. And the CPM leadership is persisting in its hide and seek, covering up this grave lapse under the pretext that the police or the government had not received any complaint.

The legislator's contention is that the party's factionalism is behind the allegations. He explains that the controversy is being blown up by those who were against him ever since he was brought in from outside the constituency. The counter to this argument is that the reservations expressed about the leader imposed from outside at that time, bypassing the wishes of the local workers, are now proving true. In effect, the party which is particularly vehement about progressive liberal democratic credentials, is trying to take umbrage under stories of party factionalism in order to protect a male leader, and thus denying female rights. And this for a party which is adept at digging out misogynic references from folklore and uses them to whip up widespread agitations. In times when the 'Me too…" campaigns exposing harassment bids are evolving into protests all over the world, the same party is in an attempt to publicly justify and offer defence for a leader who defamed a female in party's leadership. And the government machinery is also dancing to the tune of the party; a clear evidence of that is the uncharitable comments made by the state women's commission in Sasi's case. The stance of MC Josephine, chairperson of the Woman's Commission is that since the Commission has not received any complaint, it cannot file a case suo motu. However, the National Women's Commission had to correct her by reminding what a commission's role is. What remains to be seen is whether the CPM, which treats the dignity of a woman merely as a party matter, learn and correct itself and try to restore to the female comrade her self-respect stolen by a male comrade.

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