Kerala Women’s Commission Chairperson forced to quit over insensitive remarks to a victim of domestic violence during a live television programme

Published : June 25, 2021 19:57 IST

M.C. Josephine (right) after attending the CPI(M) State secretariat meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on June 25. Photo: S. MAHINSHA

M.C. Josephine, Chairperson, Kerala Women’s Commission, has been forced to resign from office following a controversy over her rude and insensitive remarks to a victim of domestic violence during a live television phone-in programme in a prominent Malayalam television channel on June 23.

Josephine, who is a member of the central committee of the ruling CPI(M) in Kerala, was reportedly asked to quit by the party for her harsh responses. During the programme, meant for women to seek the assistance of the commission on various issues, a woman from Ernakulam had complained that she was being harassed and tortured by her husband and mother-in-law. In response, Josephine was heard rudely asking her whether she had filed a police complaint. To the woman’s response that she had not, Josephine then said: “Oh! then you suffer.”

Josephine appeared extremely irritated during the call and when she was speaking to other callers during the programme and the video of her rude behaviour on television received much attention on social media. There was widespread and severe condemnation from several quarters, including Left leaders such as P.K. Sreemathy, CPI(M) central committee member, and youth organisations of the Left front. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded her immediate ouster and members of the Youth Congress held protests before the commission’s office in Thriuvananthapuram.

Josephine issued a public apology subsequently, saying that it was a spontaneous reaction to the continuing reluctance of women to come forward to file a police complaint in such circumstances. “But later I realised I should not have said that. I offer my apology if my words have hurt that sister,” she said.

But criticism and condemnation continued from several other quarters over the “shocking, intimidatory response” of a person at the helm of the Women’s Commission, causing embarrassment to the CPI(M) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.

Later, while speaking to mediapersons about the decisions of the CPI(M) State committee, A. Vijayaraghavan, the party’s acting secretary, said: “Kerala society has widely discussed the remarks that Josephine made during a television programme. Though she is a person who is at the frontline of finding solutions to atrocities against women, her response was found unacceptable by society. She explained to the State committee that she had accepted her mistake and apologised for it. She also offered her willingness to resign from the post of chairperson of the State Women’s Commission. The party accepted her offer and she quit.”

Josephine’s controversial response in the television programme came in the wake of two recent instances of dowry harassment deaths in the State and when the CPI(M) was organising a major campaign against dowry-related atrocities in the State. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that the government considered instances of girls losing their lives because of harassment over dowry quite seriously and will ensure severe punishment to the culprits. He also announced the appointment of a special officer to help such women and the launch of a helpline for them to call in and register complaints.

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