What happened in that room? Cast your vote.
What happened in that room? Cast your vote.

Your politician is not talking about it, even when he is talking incessantly about issues that matter to you. But why are you silent? 

S Pal 
A WOMAN EMPLOYEE of the Supreme Court, who was in direct touch with the Chief Justice of India, thanks to her job description, accused him of sexual harassment. There was a long history to her allegations and some of the instances and evidences she provided were so shocking that the Supreme Court was forced to set up an in-house committee of three Supreme Court judges.

The committee started investigations which were closed to the public. The woman deposed for three days and then walked out, because her requests for a lawyer or legal assistance in the form of a support person were denied. 

What do you think is the power symmetry when three judges of the Supreme Court of India sit inside a room, a victim of sexual harassment sits across the table, and the three subject her to questioning?

A person needs a lawyer in a court even in a simple case of theft of a bicycle, or a minor street scuffle with a vegetable vendor. When there is a prospect of three judges of the Supreme Court questioning you, do you think you can survive without a lawyer?

Even a senior advocate of the Supreme Court or a former judge, if ever put through a session of grilling in a dock, would need the services of a lawyer, and saying so is a no-brainer. 

The in-house committee of three SC judges denied her a lawyer, did not permit a support person to be present, did not explain the procedure it planned to follow and has now refused to give her a copy of its final report as per which it has found no substance in the woman's charges of sexual harassment.

However, it has stated that it will give a copy of the report to the person who was accused, that is, the Chief Justice of India.

All of this happened during days when India was in the throes of election campaign to elect a Parliament and when every political party has promised in its manifesto to deliver the moon to the country's women.

And yet, not a single politician has taken up this issue. An instance as serious as a woman employee being allegedly sexually harassed by the Chief Justice of India; three top judges of the apex court investigating into the matter; and the matter hitting the national newspaper and television headlines, has not made it all an issue political enough to figure in the campaign speeches of politicians who are making special appeals to women to vote for them.
Not a single woman politician, including the devoted-to-god-for-life Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, has said a word about the entire episode.

Now, compare this episode to what is happening to the Joe Biden-for-President campaign in the US. Biden, who served as Vice President with Barack Obama and is one of the most widely respected politicians in the United States, has been accused by seven women so far of making them uncomfortable, in some cases with unwelcome touching, though none has accused him of any more vigorous assault.

Caitlyn Caruso, 22, said when she was an undergrad student at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and met Biden, he placed his hand on her thigh while she squirmed in her seat to make clear she was uncomfortable. Biden then gave her a hug and held it 'just a little bit too long,' she told the The New York Times. 

A former Nevada politician Lucy Flores had accused him of kissing the back of her head at a campaign rally five years ago.

Amy Lappos said the incident between her and Biden at a 2009 political fundraiser 'wasn't sexual, but he did grab me by the head.' 

D.J. Hill, 59, met Biden at a Minneapolis fundraiser in 2012 with her husband and when the couple were posing for a photo with Biden, he allegedly put his hand on her shoulder and ran it down her back. 

In 2015, Biden was castigated for massaging the shoulders of Ash Carter's wife when her husband was being sworn in as secretary of defence. Stephanie Carter later wrote in a newspaper that Biden was merely 'a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful'. 

Now, simply compare the charges of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India and those against Joe Biden in the United States of America. 

The entire political class, right from President Donald Trump, is talking about the women's charges against Joe Biden. Of course, Trump is no great upholder of any ethical values. He has not been accused of having even an iota of respect for women. His conduct in the past, and the Hollywood Access Tapes should be enough to trigger his immediate arrest and trial, but that is not the point right now.

The point is that we are dealing with politicians in India who have now mustered up the courage to not even touch an issue when it is happening right there in the townsquare in broad daylight, and even then they think it is alright to seek our votes.

And we find it normal.

We are not shrieking: "But sir, why are you not saying anything about this woman? Why are you silent on the in-house committee of the Supreme Court? Why are you not telling us if three judges of the Supreme Court have done the right thing by conducting the inquiry in this fashion? Do you think it was alright to not allow the woman the assistance of a lawyer or a support person even when she is being questioned by three judges of the Supreme Court?"

This, and a thousand other questions. 

Including whether or not it was true that the Chief Justice of India told the junior woman employee to wish him "Good Morning” over WhatsApp every morning, that he would call her into his office room, and make her show him her phone and make her delete the WhatsApp messages between them, that when she wore an orange kurta and dupatta to work on the first day of Navratri, the CJI told her she was "looking pretty good today,” or that he asked her "What can you do for me?”, or whether he really slid his hand from the back of her head, along her back to her hipline, till her lower back, and then pulled both her cheeks, whether the CJI, as she alleged in her letter sent to all the judges of the Supreme Court, really "put his arms around my waist from the front" and said, "I want this from you.”? 

The cover letter of the affidavit that the woman sent to 22 judges on April 19. 
We needed the answers to these questions. We needed to know the circumstances in which she and her kin lost their jobs, whether the Delhi Police really did what she has alleged it did, whether her legs were tied all through the night. We need to know whether the wife of the Chief Justice of India really asked her to rub her nose on the ground. The former junior woman employee of the Supreme Court had detailed in her complaint that Naresh Solanki, the SHO of Tilak Marg police station, tried to engineer a truce between her and the CJI, and Solanki discussed it with her and her husband and then took her to the CJI’s residence on the night of January 11, 2019 where the wife of the Chief Justice of India asked her to 'seek forgiveness’. 

"In the presence of the SHO and Mr. Deepak Jain, Mrs. Gogoi told me "naak ragad ke jao (rub your nose on the ground),” the woman said in her affidavit. She also narrated that she obliged. 

We must know if it now takes only an SHO to effect a compromise between the Chief Justice of India and anyone who falls foul of him.

One can easily make out a case for institutional probity, for the need for preserving the integrity of the institution, for the issues related to power asymmetry, for the 3-judge panel found wanting while investigating such a grave episode. 

But this is more than that.

This is our politician telling us he or she is not bothered by the goings on, that we should learn to make these fine distinctions of institutional response and the rough and tumble of politics. 

This puts us in the room with the victim and a powerful man, where we decide whether to stay silent and not ask any questions about what is happening. 

By not making noise for our right to know the whole truth, we are entering a compact with the powers that be - that we wish to know the truth but if the institution is not being transparent and we are fed a version of the truth after an investigation which is not very transparent, we will either accept it, or we will be a little agnostic about it but we will not raise hell to know what really happened inside that room, why the woman was sacked, why were her kin arrested, and a thousand other whys and hows. 
Our silence and the silence of our politicians and the lack of our sense of incredulity over the story unfolding so far simply means we really do not care if this country has a credible mechanism to investigate whether the Chief Justice of India might do all this to a woman working in close proximity to him. 

You are in that room. Take a decision. 

Either be satisfied, because the CJI now has a clean chit, and you have immense faith in our glorious institution, and you know that three independent judges trained in maintaining objectivity and pursuing nothing but the truth, wherever it takes them, have found "no substance in the allegations." 

Or raise hell.

You must vote. Everyone in the country is telling you this, in any case.

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