A government body has asked a Jesuit-run college in southern India's Tamil Nadu state to pay 6.4 million rupees (US$87,000) to a woman teacher as back wages and compensation for sexual harassment.
The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women's ruling has surprised Loyola College in state capital Chennai, said its lawyer Godson Swaminathan.
The commission on Dec. 22 ordered the college to compensate Mary Rajasekaran, a former employee, "with immediate effect."
The commission said it was a suo moto
decision and directed the college management to comply with its decision immediately.
"We are surprised to see the commission order," Swaminathan told UCA News on Dec. 24.
"The complainant woman had already filed a petition leveling similar allegations before the Tamil Nadu High Court in 2016 and the matter is already in the court.
"Once a higher court is seized with a matter, legally it is not possible for a parallel trial," he said, questioning the commission's power to run a parallel trial on the matter and pronounce a judgment.
"We will inform the state High Court about this order when it reopens after the Christmas vacation," he said.
The teacher accused Father Xavier Alphonse of sexually abusing her but has not provided any evidence to substantiate her claims. The Jesuit priest was the college's principal for three years till 1995.
The woman also accused the college management of arbitrarily terminating her services after she opposed alleged financial mismanagement in the college.
Jesuit Father Francis P. Xavier, the college's rector, told UCA News on Dec. 23 that they have "nothing to hide. We will present all facts and figures before the High Court."
However, the priest refused to divulge more details, saying the matter is sub judice
"It is not proper for me to speak more about the case before the High Court, and you will come to the truth when the court passes the order," he said.
The commission also said Loyola College had terminated the woman's service abruptly without any reason, though her track record was found to be very good.
"For the kind of trauma and physical and sexual abuse she has been submitted to, she has to be adequately compensated expeditiously," chairperson Kannegi Packianathan said in her order.
Officials familiar with the commission's functioning told UCA News on condition of anonymity that the commission has not followed "proper procedures and the order seemed to be like a knee-jerk reaction."
In case the commission receives a complaint or takes suo moto
action, it will have to follow clearly laid out procedures such as serving notice to the concerned parties and seeking explanations from them.
"In this case, nothing of the sort has been done, and merely an order has been passed apparently to terrorize the institution on a matter pending in the High Court," said an official following the case.