Sexual harassment charge against Chief Justice of India: Justice demands an impartial enquiry

The Supreme Court of India is the highest judicial authority in the country. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) occupies the highest seat in this highest judicial authority. The charge of sexual harassment against the CJI, by a former court employee who was posted in his house, is an extremely serious matter.  The way the Supreme Court has responded to this charge and dismissed it in just 15 days has exposed the ugly face of the entire judicial system. 

All norms of unbiased investigation and rendering of justice have been violated by the Supreme Court, in its hurry to give a clean chit to the CJI in record time. The height of injustice was reached when the accused himself chaired a bench of judges meant to examine the accusation.  Sitting in judgment of himself, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi delivered a widely publicized speech in which he accused the woman who was accusing him, of being part of a conspiracy to attack the independence of the Indian judiciary. 

Would the CJI have misused his position so blatantly if he was really innocent? That is the first question that comes up in people’s minds.  It is naturally the first source of suspicion.

After the first blatantly biased act, the CJI recused himself from the case and an in-house Committee of three sitting judges was set up.  It was headed by Justice Bobde, the second-most senior of the judges in the Supreme Court. This committee held many hours of closed-door discussion with the woman who has made the accusation, during which she was denied the right to have her lawyer present. She was denied the right to cross-examine the accused.  She walked out of the hearings, objecting to the unjust process being followed. She issued a statement saying, “I found the atmosphere of the committee very frightening and I was very nervous because of being confronted and questioned by three Supreme Court Judges and without even the presence of my lawyer/support person”. 

It is well known that a woman who has been sexually harassed has to suffer more indignities when she reveals her experience.  She reopens wounds when she speaks out in public. She becomes the target of societal scorn and suspicion. Her very integrity as a human being and as a woman is put into question. She suffers even more if she has to defend her statement in a court of law. 

It was in response to the persistent demand of women’s organisations that Parliament passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, known as the POSH Act.  Should the CJI, an adult male human being, not be subject to the same law that applies to other men regarding sexual harassment at the work place? 

It is clear that the Supreme Court is guilty of not practicing what it preaches. The Vishaka guidelines have not been followed, nor the provisions of the POSH Act.  No external person was included in the Enquiry Committee, which consisted only of sitting judges, whose boss is the accused.  A judgment has been reached without due process of cross-examination, and without even permitting the complainant to have her lawyer present.  The verdict has been announced after the complainant walked out, objecting to the process being followed. 

The accusations concerning the former employee’s dismissal from service, and suspension or dismissal of her husband and other relatives, are all verifiable.  Why was she and her relatives dismissed or suspended from their jobs, all around the same time? The Supreme Court has provided no answers to these questions.

While the accusations made by the victim have been summarily dismissed, another case has been admitted in the Supreme Court, charging the woman of being part of an anti-national conspiracy. A retired judge has been assigned the task of investigating that case.

The clean chit given to the CJI is not acceptable to women and men of conscience. It is a blatant travesty of justice. It is no wonder that this verdict was met with mass protests outside the Supreme Court by large numbers of women’s organisations and human rights activists. They held placards denouncing the verdict as a “Supreme Cover-Up”.

It is clear that the Supreme Court is not delivering justice to all, without bias. The principle of equality before the law is being trampled in the mud.  A privileged elite act as if laws are only for others, while they are free to commit any crime. This is not acceptable in this 21st century.

All progressive forces and justice loving people must support the legitimate demand that an impartial enquiry must be conducted into the charges against the CJI, by a body consisting of retired judges and well-known champions of women’s rights, following the due process as per the POSH Act.

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May 16-31 2019    Voice of the Party    Rights     2019   

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