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A plea to quash sexual harassment proceedings conducted against a Zoology Professor at the Madras Christian College (MCC) recently prompted the Madras High Court to muse on the need curb the misuse of women protection laws.
On the subject of educational institutions run by Christian missionaries, Justice S Vaidyanathan observed in passing,
“…this Court feels it appropriate to point out that Christian missionaries are always on the source of attack in one way or the other and in the present era, there are several accusations against them for indulging in compulsory conversion of people of other religions into Christianity.
Now, there is a general feeling amongst the parents of students, especially female students that co-educational study in Christian institutions is highly unsafe for the future of their children and though they impart good education, the preach of morality will be a million dollar question.
As long as a religion is practiced in streets in lieu of its worship places, like Temple, Mosque, Church, etc., such devastation, as in the present case, does occur and will be mushrooming.“
The main plea concerned sexual harassment allegations levelled by 34 female students of MCC against Professor Samuel Tennyson. It was alleged that he behaved inappropriately during a tour, with the support of another faculty member, Dr. R Raven. After eight women appeared to testify before a committee constituted under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, a fact-finding report was released.
Last month, Dr. Raven was dismissed by the college, whereas it was reported that a final decision was yet to be taken in Tennyson’s case owing to the plea he brought before the Madras High Court. Tennyson had challenged the fact-finding report which had found him and Raven guilty of sexual harassment. Before the High Court, he had contended that there was a violation of natural justice principles in the way the proceedings were conducted.
On an examination of the case, however, Justice Vaidyanathan saw no merit in his submissions. The Court, therefore, dismissed the plea while observing,
“This Court finds justification in the act of the Committee…there is no violation of the principles of natural justice…and this Court finds no infirmity with the report of the Committee…there is no justifiable ground to interfere with the Fact Finding Report as well as the second show cause notice, as the further action followed by the show cause notice will only bring the cat out of the bag…”
Amend law to protect innocent men against misuse of women protection laws
On a concluding note, the Court opined that several laws meant for the protection of women are prone to misuse. As noted in the order,
“This Court do not want to go into the question of who is at fault in the present case? But at the same time, it has become imperative for this Court to indicate that several enactments were brought into force for safeguarding the interest of Women and we have to ask a question for ourselves as to whether those laws are invoked by women with genuine reasons.”
Justice Vaidyanathan proceeded to observe that such women protection laws are easily misused as a tool for vendetta against men.
“Certain laws, which are in existence for easy access to women, lend itself to easy misuse that women will find it hard to resist the temptation to “teach a lesson” to the male members and will file frivolous and false cases. A similar trend is already being observed in the case of anti-dowry law (498-A), which is being misused to such an extent that the Supreme Court has termed it “Legal Terrorism”.”
In this regard, the Court also quoted the Supreme Court’s observations concerning misuse of the anti-dowry law in the case of Sushil Kumar Sharma v Union of India and others.
In view of these observations, Justice Vaidyanathan states on a parting note,
“This is the right time for the Government to think of suitable amendment in those [women protection] laws in order to prevent its misuse so as to safeguard the interest of the innocent masculinity too.”
A copy of the order was also marked to be sent to the Union Government.
[Read the Order]