The institutional integrity of the country’s judiciary will be better served if the complainant’s charge is probed fairly, feel experts.
In the wake of sexual harassment allegations by a former employee against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, the judiciary system of the country has come under scrutiny. The episode has also brought back the spotlight on #MeToo movement as the case raises a point whether women can approach the judiciary to demand justice when the lawmakers themselves are under the scanner. While a committee led by Former Supreme Court judge Ananga Kumar Patnaik, has been appointed to investigate the conspiracy claims made by advocate Utsav Bains, it is seen as a ploy to divert people’s attention from the sexual harassment allegations against the CJI. “How can conspiracy and sexual harassment be brushed under the same thing? How can you say that money was offered in this case? This girl has given an affidavit and it holds validity. If you give a false affidavit, you can be imprisoned. You cannot doubt the allegations. You have to investigate; this is just a ploy to divert the attention to something else. I strongly object the manner in which the crucial issue of sexual harassment is being diverted,” says senior advocate Abha Singh.
The affidavit, that the victim sent to 22 judges of the Supreme Court, recounts the Chief Justice’s inappropriate advances since October 2018, that further led to the victimisation of her husband and other family members as well. In the report, she also claims her untimely dismissal from the service and suspension of her husband’s job from Delhi Police. “When it comes to sexual harassment at work place, no institution is spared from it. They (SC) only make the laws and now they are not complying with it, so what’s the point of making any law. They are misusing it because it is about the CJI and there is no compliance being followed. They have overlooked it,” says Women’s Rights activist Yogita Bhayana, who is also a part of sexual harassment committee in High Court in New Delhi.
As soon as the affidavit went public, the Chief Justice denied the allegations, calling them baseless and claiming that the judiciary has been compromised. The CJI constituted a special bench led by himself and two others of his choice – Justice Arun Mishra and Sanjeev Khanna, using his power and position. Surprisingly both vilified the complaint terming it as a conspiracy against the CJI. The absence of more women in the bench has also led to strong objections from various quarters of the country condemning the act. “The CJI has disregarded the principles. It is disappointing the way they are dealing with the case. He can’t be the part of the bench and should have heard the other party also. They need to have fair and independent committee as a legal procedure in this case,” adds the activist.
The allegations made in sworn affidavits have however been dismissed by the CJI, as being wild, scandalous and politically moved. “What else can he say? He is desperate to defend himself so now he is putting all this on the politics. If it is political move, then he has the resources and force to bring those people in light, why is he hiding those? At least country will know that even the Chief Justice is not spared from this kind of politics,” asserts social activist, Dr Ranjana Kumari. The activist also insists that CJI’s comment about the allegations as a political conspiracy is raising questions on his position. “He became chief justice; was it politics? Wasn’t his experience and seniority counted for the position he is in? He is trying to safeguard himself calling it a political move,” she asserts. The lawyer also supports the thought saying, “If this is politically planned, then the girl should be put behind the bars but there is no FIR registered in this case, and it is a violation of CRPC.”
One also wonders if the accusation of sexual harassment is sometimes used as a weapon to demean those in powerful positions. In this case, can the CJI be given a benefit of doubt? “It may be the case, but the base is sexual harassment. Doesn’t she have a right of fair inquiry? Whenever there is a case of sexual harassment, the onus is always on woman to prove whether she was part of it or not,” says Yogita. Ranjana asserts that the men often gang up against woman in such cases. “They are all trying to prove the woman wrong, it is a social reality of this country. In this case also she isn’t getting any support,” says the activist, insisting that women have to support other women fighting for their right to justice.