Earlier today, there were multiple news reports, tweets and posts on how a Kerala court said a sexual harassment complaint “will not prima facie stand when woman was wearing sexually provocative dress”.
The court in question was a sessions court in Kozhikode. The order, passed on August 12, granted bail to Civic Chandran – a well-known activist, writer and former Maoist – in a sexual harassment case.
Chandran, 71, faces two cases of sexual harassment, the first filed on July 17 and the second on July 29. He received bail in the first case on August 2, and in the second on August 12.
Newslaundry pieced together the sequence of events, the women’s allegations, and the judge’s comments from the court order.
The August 12 order is the one that mentions the “sexually provocative dress”. In this case, a woman alleged that Chandran sexually harassed her in 2020 at a poetry camp at Kozhikode’s Nandi beach.
The complainant said Chandran “caught her hands”, “forcefully took her to a lonely place”, and “asked [her] to lie on his lap”. According to her complaint, Chandran then “pressed her breast and tried to outrage her modesty”.
When Chandran applied for bail, his application included “certain photographs” of the complainant, taken from her social media accounts. Judge S Krishnakumar of the Kozhikode sessions court said the photos show the “complainant herself is exposing to dresses which are having some sexual provocative one”.
The woman’s lawyer, P Rajeev, argued that the woman’s Facebook photos have “no connection with Chandran or the event where this happened”.
“Also, in these photographs, she’s standing with her best friend,” he said. “She’s not even wearing provocative clothes. Even if she was, how are these photographs relevant to the case?”
The judge also queried the woman’s delay in filing an FIR. Describing her as an “educated lady who is fully aware of the consequences of sexual assault”, he said, “Why she was reluctant to file the complaint has to be explained by her.” He also said it was “unfortunate” that a “lady having an age of 30” filed a complaint against Chandran, who has a “good reputation in society”.
Advocate Rajeev said the complainant isn’t 30 years old. She’s only 20 years old now and was 18 at the time of the incident. Rajeev said she had regarded Chandran as a “father figure who she looked up to”. “She found the courage to file a complaint only after the first case against Chandran was filed,” he said.
Yet the bail order expressed disbelief that a man now aged “74” – Chandran is actually 71 – and “physically disabled” could have “forcefully put the de facto complainant on his lap and sexually press her breast”.
The first case
So, what was the first case against Chandran – for which he also got bail?
This case was filed on July 17 by a Dalit woman writer. The same Kozhikode sessions court, presided over by sessions judge S Krishnakumar, granted him bail on August 2.
According to the bail order, Chandran met the woman in Koyilandy on April 17 this year. He allegedly said, “I want to kiss the back of your neck.” The woman alleged that he then “kissed the back of her neck”.
The woman went into more detail on what allegedly happened in a post on a private Facebook group, called “Women Against Sexual Harassment”, on July 22.
She wrote that she met Chandran for the first time on April 17 at a poetry reading with some friends, after which the group had some drinks.
“Some of us walked to the nearby beach,” she wrote. “It was then that Civic, who was behaving well till then, grabbed my hand and attempted to keep me close to his body. I pushed him away, and tried to keep distance as much as possible...He came near me and tried to make me lie on his lap. During that time he tried to move his hands on my body. I was in a horrific situation then because of humiliation and fear.”
She alleged that the harassment continued and that “I regret that I didn’t slap him”.
The FIR against Chandran was filed on July 17. He was booked under penal sections related to assault and outraging a woman’s modesty, as well as sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Chandran’s lawyer called it a false case due to “personal vengeance”.
While granting Chandran bail, Judge Krishnakumar once again asked why the woman waited three months before filing a police complaint. “There is no satisfactory explanation for this long delay,” he said.
His order also noted Chandran was 74 while the woman has a “well-built body and aged 42” and is “taller” than Chandran. “Considering his age and poor health condition,” the order said, “it cannot be believed that the accused made a kiss on her back without her consent.”
With respect to the other charges under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, the judge said Chandran had “no knowledge” that the woman is Dalit.
“The accused is a reformist and is engaged in social activities,” the order said, “and he is against the caste system...In such a circumstance it is highly unbelievable that he will touch the body of the victim fully knowing that she is a member of scheduled caste.”
Hence, the order said, charges under the atrocities act will “not prima facie stand against the accused”.
Advocate Rajeev, representing the complainant in the case for which Chandran got bail on August 12, said they will appeal to the high court to reverse the bail order.
“The reason cited in this bail order is very damaging,” he said, “and should be reversed.”
A woman who knows both the complainants well told Newslaundry the bail order, which its mention of “provocative dress”, simply reveals an already prevalent mindset.
“Men have been saying these things since ages. Today it came out in a court order. So it’s not really surprising,” she said. On the photographs, she added, “If this is what the court thought was provoking then I am scared of these men who sit in our courtrooms.”
Newslaundry reached out to advocate PV Hari, who is Civic Chandran’s lawyer, to ask about the bail order and the judge’s comments.
Hari said, “This is an extremely great order. The judge has considered everything.” On the judge’s comments on the woman’s Facebook photos, he said, “She uploaded the photos apparently after the incident. The photographs prove how brave and bold she is.”
He added, “Today in news, people are discussing this bail order. But why? Bail order will anyway not affect the trial.”