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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Former Justice Saldanha joins the AICF for justice for the victim of sexual harassment in Loyola College by Fr Xavier Alphonse


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Mumbai: Former Justice of the the Bombay High Court and Karnataka High Court Michael Saldanha has joined the All India Christian Forum (AICF) fight for justice for the victim of sexual harassment by Fr Xavier Alphonse at the Loyola College Chennai.

In an appeal the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, former Justice Saldanha wrote:

Most Respected Brother Chief Justice, 

Please permit me to prefix this Appeal with a few observations,the first being that I request you to spare just a few minutes to look into this grievance which is one of consequence. I am a Retired Judge of the Bombay and Karnataka High Courts and after  my  retirement  I  have  been  striving  to  work  for  the upgradation   of   the   Judicial   System,   the  Bar   and   Legal Education. My belief is that criticism can be destructive, but conscious  effort  towards  improvement  works  towards  the fulfillment of justice and has made a huge difference to all aspects of the system. Some decades back when we set up the Judicial Training Institutes to train the Judges and provide for refresher courses eyebrows were raised but experience shows that it is one of the best things that has happened to the Judiciary. My humble contribution to that field gives me the satisfaction from the huge difference for the better that it has made to the quality of Judges.

I have had long associations with Tamil Nadu right from the old days when my brother did his B. Com. (Hons.) at the Loyola College and several of my family members qualified from the virtually world class Institutions in the then Madras. During my lawyer days I remember with admiration the high standards of the Madras Bar and some of the outstanding Lawyers and
Judges that it has produced. The Madras High Court which is one of the oldest in the country has been known for its high standards and even though most of my practice was confined to Bombay and Delhi I do recall having appeared in the High Court on a few occasions. In later years, my batch mate Justice B. N. Shrikrishna and Justice Ajit Shah who was Chief Justice spent some fruitful years in this High Court as also Chief Justice

In this background, I felt imperative to bring to your kind notice the fact that a senior lady faculty member from the Loyola College had in the year 2016 approached the High Court with a Petition alleging sexual harassment by a Priest by the name of Rev. Fr. Xavier Alphonse S. J. a very powerful member of the Jesuit community on the allegation of sexual harassment at the workplace. I refrain from even referring to the facts because that is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court.

Unfortunately, though the Writ Petition was filed in the year 2016,  she  was  then  62  years  of  age  and  she  hoped  for expeditious reliefs, despite the High Court issuing Notice which was served on the University but more importantly, to the Priest in question and the college authorities. Her grievance is that they have even after four years not even filed their Reply and that  the  case  has  made  no  progress.  This  has  appeared prominently in the national media through the Goa Chronicle, the All India Christian Forum and even though I am in Mumbai it has hurt me because it reflects very seriously on the working of
the judiciary.

My very humble request to you is to kindly call for the case records in the Petition filed by Mary Rajashkaran and to direct its expeditious disposal. The Courts have effective methods of dealing   with   situations   where   even   rich   and   powerful Respondents try to delay the progress and disposal of litigation because nothing works as a greater pressure on the victim. This case is a classic instance where even if the Petitioner succeeds after having been tortured and humiliated she can never get back into her academic profession because the age factor will now intervene and at the highest she would be entitled  to  monetary  compensation,  but  all  of  that  will  be decided by the Court.

One of the principle ingredients of the concept of Justice is thetime factor which postulates that Justice Delayed is Justice Denied. I prefer to say that even belated Justice is the next best.

The victim is a senior member of the faculty who was sexually harassed by Father Xavier Alphonse,  former principal of the Loyola College and former Director for Loyola College Alumni Association.

With no support to her fight for justice from the Loyola College, the victim approached the Madras High Court in 2016. The High Court issued notices to the accused in the sexual harassment case but till date no response has been submitted by the accused in court. And the case has not moved forward for the last four years.

Speaking on the issue, Savio Rodrigues, president, All India Christian Forum, stated, “Sexual abuse and sexual harassment is an evil in the Catholic Church. It is a grave crime in any institution anywhere in the world. It needs to be dealt by law firmly and quickly. Fr Xavier Alphonse assumes that under the protection of a powerful institution of the Jesuit Order – Loyola College, Chennai, he is safe. This attitude is behind the reason there has been no reply to High Court notices for 4-years from the accused priest and from the Loyola College as well. “

All India Christian Forum has decided to extend its support to the sexual harassment victim. It is not a normal practice for a middle-class professional woman to fight a powerful institution but her fight is for her dignity and self-respect. Therefore she decided to take the matter to Madras High Court. Her family reached out to us for support legally and we decided to take up the case and fight for her justice. Loyola College Chennai is a powerful institution of the Catholic Church. It is sad and disappointing that the Loyola Management decided to take a questionable stand of not supporting the victim of sexual harassment, expressed Rodrigues.


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