The in-house committee set for the probe into the allegations of sexual harassment on Chief Justice of India (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi has found no substance in the matter where a former staffer accused him of sexually harassing her.
On 5th May this year, the CJI has been given a clean chit by the supreme committee, consisting of Justice Indu Malhotra, Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Bobde. Raising questions over the clean chit given to the CJI by an in-house inquiry committee, most of the public is now outraged and has decided to protest against the decision. Activist Annie Raja has said,
“Women have waged a struggle for very long and will continue to do so for their rights. The SC committee has violated all existing norms and we now want a transparent inquiry.”
The statement issued by the Secretary General of the Supreme Court in their website made it clear that as held in the Indira Jaising vs Registrar General, the report of a committee constituted as part of the in-house procedure is not liable to be made public. Where everyone is expressing denial to accept the judgment, noted jurist Soli Sorabjee in an interview has said that the committee was absolutely correct to give a clean chit to the CJI and that the woman, the complainant should not have stepped down from the inquiry.
How did the events unfold?
The chain of events included the allegation being made public on April 20, when four well-known media houses wrote about the case: The Wire, Scroll, The Caravan, and Leaflet. This was when a special bench was set up to look into the matter of which the CJI himself was a part and defended himself by claiming that the allegations were a part of a larger conspiracy.
Two days later, another special bench was set up headed by Justice Arun Mishra to continue looking into the threat to the judiciary. Then a lawyer, Utsav Bains came forward claiming that he has been bribed to form the whole case of sexual assault against the CJI. As expected, the lawyer never appeared again in the public domain.
On the evening of 23rd April, the committee headed by Justice Bobde was set up to look into the matter. On the third day of the hearing, the woman denied being a part of the proceedings because she was denied the permission of hiring a lawyer.
According to the Vishakha guidelines (laws and procedure against sexual harassment in the workplace), she had to be given the support of a lawyer. In one of her press statements, she said, “I was not likely to get justice.”
The committee, on the other hand, said that since it was an informal inquiry, there’s no need of a lawyer. She henceforth withdrew. The committee completed its task in 14 days, preceded ex-parte as the woman opted out of the proceedings because of the reasons mentioned. Something that has lost the attention in all the events is the probability of the appointment of the next CJI.
Justice Bobde, is someone next in the line, and guess who will recommend him? The one whom he just gave a clean chit on the severe allegations and took a chance with the country and judiciary.
The supporters of the judgment though clarified that according to Vishakha guidelines, even the accused has the rights of maintaining privacy, which is clearly not maintained. The complainant has expressed, “I was repeatedly asked by the committee members as to why I had made this complaint of sexual harassment so late. I found the atmosphere of the committee very threatening and I was nervous because of being confronted and questioned by three Supreme Court judges without the presence of my lawyer/support.”
Her statement claimed that the three-judge panel was not following the procedure laid down by the Vishakha guidelines. They were not being transparent with the records and the reports, been denied the access to all the reports which ‘proved’ his innocence.
The nation saw demonstrations by protestors in front of the Supreme Court, demanding justice and transparency in the case. A number of activists gathered there and demanded CJI’s resignation. However, the police whisked them, away showcasing security concerns. Women lawyers and activists were detained by the police and taken to the Mandir Marg police station. They were released after 3 hours of detainment. Section 144 CrPC was levied outside the court since it is a ‘sensitive’ area.
How was the decision inevitable for us?
But they swore to uphold all constitutional values, swore to provide absolute justice to the subjects. Now when it is someone from their own premises, have they betrayed and did not remain to what they stand for?
A column in Hindustan Times suggests that the Judges of the Court have decided not to employ any female staff at their home offices, clearly performing victim blaming and threatening the employment opportunities for women of the country.
If they’ve feared the reputation of the Apex Court after his crime gets proven, they never thought what would happen to the same reputation now. Supreme Court remained every citizen’s last hope. For now, the vidual trial will be the option for most of the women. If the guidelines are not being followed by the Court itself, we probably might use our own rules and ways of defense in order to protect ourselves. What would the nation then look like?
Finally, not giving further judgments on who is guilty and who is not, there’s no room for transparency and belief in the judiciary. The should-be-credible bodies have started to deviate from the rulebook. Even the independent bodies such as Election Commission of the country have started behaving like that of the state, giving all clean chits to the parties. There are in-house wars inside the Central Bureau of Investigation which never resulted in a fair and just manner. Though this has been the gravest crisis of the Judiciary in our country, it hasn’t come to an end.
The complainant can now move to the President Ram Nath Kovind with an FIR against the CJI; or file a writ petition in the Supreme Court asking for an inquiry to be conducted by a committee of retired judges of the Supreme Court. Though these could be the dead ends, she is anyway not left with any other legal recourse. Now the questions can be whether she will take this forward or not? If she does, should the CJI step down from power for the time being? Is there even a legal procedure to be carried out to look into this matter or they will use a combination of rulebooks for this? This proves a need for fairness and transparency, along with a built trust and belief in the system.