Kerala minister lands in row over viral clip on molestation case
Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala forest minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) AK Saseendran has landed in a controversy over an alleged audio tape of his conversation with the father of a woman, who filed sexual harassment complaint against another NCP leader, in which he was purportedly heard asking the parent to settle the issue.
Talking to reporters on Tuesday, the minister refuted the allegations. While he did not deny his telephonic conversation, he said he did not know that it was a sexual harassment case.
However, the woman’s father while talking to reporters alleged that the minister called him several times and asked him to withdraw the compliant and settle the issue amicably.
The opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party sought the minister’s resignation saying he violated the “oath of office” by “forcing a sexual assault victim to withdraw her compliant”.
“He has no right to continue in power,” said VD Satheesan, leader of the opposition in state assembly. Youth Congress leader Veena Nair on Tuesday met Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and sough his expulsion. BJP state president K Surendran said, “He has violated his oath of office forcing the victim to withdraw a sexual harassment case.”
However, Saseendran said he called up the woman’s father since both (accused and complainant) were members of the NCP and he wanted to know about the issue. He claimed that he backed out after he came to know harassment charges were also involved.
According to the police, the woman from Kollam in south Kerala had filed a complaint at Kundara police station on June 28, alleging that NCP state executive member G Padmakaran had caught hold of her hand and tried to molest her inside a hotel owned by him in March. In her police complaint, she said the NCP leader wanted to know why she joined the BJP when everyone else in her family belonged to the NCP. In 2020 local body elections, she unsuccessfully contested on the BJP ticket.
In his purported conversation with the father, the minister is heard saying that there was a minor issue in the party, and it should be settled in a good manner. In the audio clip, when the man asks if the minister was seeking to settle the issue of a hotel owner’s bid to sexually assault his daughter, the minister purportedly says he knew about the issue, and it should be settled in a good manner.
HT cannot indepenently verify the autheticity of the audio clip.
Later, the victim’s father claimed they were being pressurised to withdraw the compliant, an allegation Saseendran denied. “Since both belong to the NCP, I made an inquiry. I never pressurised either the father or daughter,” he said, adding that he was told about a verbal duel, not harassment or assault.
The woman’s father said he would file a complaint with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. CPI(M) acting secretary A Vijayarghavan said he was not aware of the issue and will react only after studying it. Party insiders, however, said senior leaders were upset with the development.
NCP state president PC Chacko defended the minister, saying he was only trying to ascertain facts about the compliant.
This is not the first time Saseendran has landed in a controversy. During the first Pinarayi Vijayan government, Saseendran, then transport minister, was forced to quit in 2017 after his alleged inappropriate conversation with a woman journalist surfaced. He was later inducted after the journalist withdrew her compliant.