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Actress recoils after backlash - Citing apology, Shweta withdraws complaint against MP

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By ANANTHAKRISHNAN G.
  • Published 4.11.13
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Thiruvananthapuram, Nov. 3: Actress Shweta Menon today withdrew legal action against a Congress MP after formally accusing him of molesting her, appearing to be nonplussed by a high-decibel political campaign as well as a backlash marked by an attack on her career.

Shweta, twice winner of the best actress award in Kerala, said she would not pursue the molestation charges since the MP had apologised.

Her statement came hours after police in Kollam, about 75km from here, had booked the MP, 70-year-old N. Peethambara Kurup, for sexual harassment on the basis of a statement Shweta had given them today at her home in Kochi.

“In the wake of Mr Peethambara Kurup’s repeated public and personal apology about the incident at the President’s Boat Race at Kollam, I am withdrawing all legal and other actions against him,” Shweta, 39, said in an emailed statement from Bangalore this evening.

“I have taken this decision after due consultation with my respected guruji Gul Saheb, my father and my husband. There is no pressure whatsoever behind this move.”

Sources suggested Shweta may have been taken aback by the political explosion her complaint had ignited. The actress had mentioned no names yesterday but TV channels had aired footage of Kurup brushing against her several times amid a milling crowd at Friday’s boat race.

Besides, the youth wing of the Opposition CPM had taken the lead to file a police complaint even before Shweta had recorded her statement before police. As the Opposition launched a full-fledged assault, smelling blood ahead of next year’s general election, the Congress switched from a defensive to an offensive mode today.

Party activists burnt the actress’s effigy in Kollam. District Congress president Prathapa Varma Thampan, who addressed a news conference with Kurup today, tried to cast aspersions on Shweta’s career decisions.

Thampan recalled how a teenaged Shweta had modelled for a condom brand and later “taken crores of rupees to record live for a film the act of giving birth to her child”.

Kurup, however, had struck an apologetic note when he made the opening remarks.

Denying he was the “jerk” of some people’s imagination, the Kollam MP said: “We talked to Shweta and her husband and tendered an unconditional apology if they felt hurt in any manner by our conduct.”

Kurup’s use of “we” and “our” instead of “I” and “my” suggested an attempt to give the issue a political “us-versus-them” twist.

Such a turn in the highly politicised atmosphere of Kerala would have made matters difficult for apolitical individuals like Shweta.

Few actors openly side with or oppose political parties, although superstar Mammootty, whose popularity ensures that no leader will mess with him, has allied himself with a CPM-backed TV channel.

Earlier in the day, Shweta had confirmed her allegations against Kurup when the police recorded her statement. The police have slapped charges under Sections 354 and 354A, which deal with assault or use of criminal force to outrage a woman’s modesty.

However, it is not clear if an FIR was registered. Kollam police chief Debesh Behera could not be reached.

Section 354A, introduced after the December 16 bus gang rape last year, is non-bailable; so Kurup risked being arrested anytime.

Reacting to the police booking him, Kurup had told TV channels: “It’s justified. I’m happy that the police have registered a case. I will fight it legally.”

Shweta’s email thanked the media and the film fraternity “who stood solidly behind me during the last few days of extreme personal stress”.

Lawyers said that even if the actress doesn’t officially withdraw the charges now, the case will have no future since she has publicly stated she will not pursue further “action”.

“Theoretically, the police can register a case and file a final report, but there will be no meaning to it,” senior lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj said. Since the complainant has said she will not press charges, he said, “it will only end in an acquittal”.

Kerala, despite its enviable record on social reforms and welfare projects, has had to contend with several sex scandals with political links.

When the Left was in power, two ministers had to resign after an IAS officer accused one of them of trying to molest her and a plane passenger charged the other with trying to poke her from behind. The minister had blamed air turbulence. Both ministers were later acquitted by the courts.

Besides, the names of a few prominent state politicians were linked to complaints of young girls being used as sex slaves.