Justice delayed or denied for this non-IPS woman?

Politics Sep 05, 2021

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On August 4, 2018, a non-IPS woman officer filed a complaint against the then Joint Director in the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), S Murugan in Tamil Nadu(TN). She accused Murugun of sexual harassment as well as intimidation. She claimed that he asked “too personal” questions and would comment on her clothes and looks after calling her into his office. To her, working with him was no longer safe, especially after an incident on 1st August. She was seeking criminal action against him and protection for herself and her family.

However, no FIR was filed. According to her lawyer, V Selvaraj, the state did not want the FIR to be filed as Murugan was handling the complaints against then CM Edappadi Palaniswami and other ministers. Therefore, the FIR was delayed. Murugan alleged in the court that the complaint against him had an “ulterior motive” for sabotaging his reputation and career.

An Internal Committee(IC) under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act was set up by DVAC around 6th August. The committee headed by the Deputy Director (a junior to Murugan) was called a “mockery” by the Madras High Court on February 14, 2019, observing that its purpose seemed to frustrate the victim. The  DGP responded to the complainant’s concerns by constituting another IC with senior IPS officers on August 17, 2018.

Murugan challenged the IC as a Joint Director of the DVAC would not come under the DGP and demanded its reconstitution. The survivor sought an external addition to the IC by the High Court under the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. Finally, on August 30, 2018, a criminal complaint against Murugan was registered and an FIR was also filed. The IC was remade for the third time on October 4th with a lawyer as the external. Justice SM Subramaniam asked that IC submit its report within two weeks on 14th February 2019. Further, noting the delay between the registering of the complaint and the FIR.

Murugan filed four writ petitions and argued against the registered FIR by stating that an inquiry should be a precondition for it. The HC, however, rejected the petitions ordering the criminal trial and the inquiry to take place simultaneously. But a stay was ordered by a Coordinate Bench of Madras HC on February 20.

The Division Bench of the HC, under Article 226, decided to transfer the case to Telangana on 28th August 2019 due to both parties being a part of TN’s police department.  But this ‘unusual’ order was challenged by the state government and the accused stating that the Hc did not have the power to do so. Thus, this order was stayed by the Supreme Court on September 23, 2019.

Since then, the case went cold. As Murugan was transferred to Special Task Force Erode this June, the future of the case seems bleak. This happens to be quite a contrast to the quick action against the former Special DGP Rajesh Das. However, the availability of CCTV footage and public outrage against the DGP also needs to be counted. The other woman, an IPS officer, had also immediately filed an online FIR too, perhaps to avoid the same fate. With other IPS officers building pressure to take swift action, the authorities also had to work quicker.

One wonders if justice for the original complainant was delayed just because she wasn’t an IPS officer or deliberately denied due to higher stakes for someone?

This article has been written by Ruchi Thakur for The Paradigm

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