The Indian High Commission in Colombo and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) have launched a joint investigation into a complaint by a war-displaced widow against a Red Cross official for “soliciting sexual favours” in return for houses in the Indian government-funded housing project in the country’s northern province.
As the news about the allegation reached New Delhi last week, an angry South Block took the matter “extremely seriously”, with Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar immediately asking the Indian High Commission for a joint probe with the SLRCS, top sources told The Indian Express.
According to sources, Indian High Commissioner Y K Sinha quickly approached the Sri Lankan foreign ministry to ensure that officials – who are being probed in Sri Lanka – do not leave the country till the probe is completed.
“We don’t want the accused officials to escape, so the Sri Lankan foreign ministry and their immigration authorities have been informed,” an Indian official said.
Another Indian diplomat said that while there was “no time-frame”, the probe will be conducted “expeditiously and thoroughly”. “India will not condone any such activity by any of the implementing partners of this project.
The Government of India – through its High Commission in Colombo and the consulate in Jaffna – is conducting a joint probe along with the Sri Lankan Red Cross officials,” an Indian High Commission spokesperson told The Indian Express from Colombo.
Sources said this is the first time that such a complaint had come to India’s notice, and was taken seriously since PM Modi had handed over houses to some of the war widows during his visit to Jaffna in March this year.
These women are called “war widows” as their husbands were either declared killed or went missing during Sri Lanka’s war with the LTTE, which ended in 2009.
According to a report in a weekend newspaper, investigations were initiated after “a war-displaced widow from Mulankavil lodged a complaint against one of the officials at the Kilinochchi branch of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, saying he demanded sexual favours from her in order to approve funds for the construction of her house under the project”.
The report quoted a spokesperson for the SLRCS, Mahieash Johnney, as saying that the management had called for a probe following a written complaint lodged at the Kilinochchi branch last week. While an Indian diplomat told The Indian Express that there was only one complaint so far, SLRCS Kilinochchi branch secretary Thampu Sethupathy claimed in the news report that he had received more than 30 written and verbal complaints regarding demands for sexual favours.
He added that, based on the sensitivity of the issue, he had forwarded 15 of these complaints to the head office in Colombo.
“For the last two months we have been getting this kind of complaint from the public, particularly women. Initially, we did not consider this as a serious issue until we received some of the complaints which were very sensitive, with a similar pattern. It was thereafter that we brought this to the attention of the head office,” he said.
The SLRCS, along with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is the implementing partner of India for the project. The project is funded by India and implemented through a MoU with Sri Lanka.