Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 23: Kerala, known for its social development as well as crimes against women, has become the first state in the country to convict a high-profile politician in a sexual harassment case.
A. Neelalohithadasan Nadar, a former minister in the late E.K. Nayanar's cabinet, was today sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a year by a magistrate for trying to molest a woman forest officer in 1999 when he headed the department.
Nadar was present when First Class Judicial Magistrate P. Sasidharan pronounced the verdict in Kozhikode this morning.
The sentence will remain suspended for a month to enable Nadar to file an appeal in a higher court.
The incident occurred on February 27, 1999, when Nadar summoned Prakruti Srivastava, then divisional forest officer in Nilambur, to the government guesthouse in Kozhikode and tried to assault her sexually.
Srivastava, now deputy conservator of forests, kept quiet for some time but then mustered courage and filed a complaint with the state women's commission after another government official, transport secretary Nalini Netto, went public on a similar attempt on her by Nadar.
'Justice has prevailed and truth has won,' 40-year-old Srivastava said after the verdict. 'This judgment upholds the honour and dignity of women.'
Fifty-seven-year-old Nadar, who has had three stints as minister, maintained that the case was politically motivated and blamed it on a conspiracy by the forest mafia. The Janata Dal (Secular) leader said he was confident the higher judiciary would uphold his innocence.
The conviction of the politically savvy Nadar, a four-time MLA and a former MP, highlights the sense of insecurity among women in Kerala, considered a model of social development.
That the accused is a family man ' his wife is an officer at the State Bank of Travancore and the couple has two daughters; is a doctorate (in Hindi) and has been associated with the social justice movement in the state underscores the irony.
Nadar, who is from the backward but assertive Nadar community, had left the Congress after the Emergency and joined the Congress for Democracy formed by the late Jagjivan Ram. He later joined the Dal.
Once a giant killer, who floored the late CPI leader M.. Govindan Nair in the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat, he suffered a blow when former chief minister Nayanar asked him to resign after the Nalini controversy.
Nalini, whose husband IG Desmond Netto is with the state vigilance department, had alleged that the minister summoned her to his Assembly chamber in connection with some official work and later tried to molest her. Her lips bruised in the assault, she escaped from the room and two days later complained to Nayanar.
The hearing on the Nalini case is in its final stages at the magistrate's court here.
Nadar, however, is not the only politician to have been accused of sexual misconduct. Several years ago, an airhostess accused former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ramrao Adik of making a pass at her during a flight.
Although there has been no progress in the case, the 'taint' ended Adik's hopes of becoming chief minister.