FOR THE SECOND TIME within a year, the highest court of the land has come under a cloud of controversy. Both the incidents have been unprecedented and have brought the functioning of one of the three pillars of democracy under a close lens.
The current Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi figures in both the controversies. Son of a former chief minister of Assam, Justice Gogoi had built up a formidable reputation for honesty and integrity and by deciding to participate in an unprecedented press conference last year by four senior judges against the then Chief Justice he had taken a major risk against his elevation as the next Chief Justice of India. Government had then done well to follow the precedent of appointing the senior most judge as the next chief.
The way the allegations were made and systematically leaked out are evidence that there was more to it rather than a woman facing sexual harassment at her workplace.
Justice Gogoi now finds himself in another unprecedented controversy after a former woman employee charged him with sexual harassment while she was posted at his residence.
By no means it is an ordinary case of sexual harassment. The woman has alleged that after she refused his advances, she was dismissed from service on some other charges in December last year. She also alleged that Justice Gogoi went to great lengths to harass her relatives.
It is difficult and not advisable to judge the allegations made by the woman which can be investigated by experts but it is clear that there are external forces which are backing her.
Justice Gogoi (in pic)
said so much when he said it was a conspiracy to weaken the institution of judiciary and stressed that he was on the verge of giving important judgments and that could be the reason to question his character and integrity. He said he barely had Rs 6-7 lakhs in his bank account and just because no one could point a finger at any financial impropriety against him, he was being targeted with the allegations of sexual harassment.
The way the allegations were made and systematically leaked out are evidence that there was more to it rather than a woman facing sexual harassment at her workplace. The alleged victim, undoubtedly helped by insiders, ensured that her complaint was leaked to online media houses for quick dissemination and also that it simultaneously reached 22 other Supreme Court judges before the Chief Justice could get an opportunity to defend himself. In any ordinary case the victim should have gone to the police to register a case or could have approached women’s Commission or the Anti sexual harassment committee of the Supreme Court and other such bodies for justice. This and also the delay in making allegations does leave a question mark over the intentions of the complainant.
Evidently panicked by the allegations, Justice Gogoi also took an unprecedented step to take up the case even though he himself was an accused in the case. He sought to give his own explanation and raised apprehension of a larger conspiracy to weaken the judiciary.
What is required is an expeditious and quick verifications of the allegations against Justice Gogoi and exemplary punishment to whoever is found guilty.
Ideally he should have recused himself from the bench and let other senior judges decide on how to deal with the totally unprecedented situation in which the Chief Justice of the highest court of land was himself an accused. He has subsequently done that and has asked the second most senior judge after himself, who is in line to be the next Chief Justice, to take a call on the steps required to be taken.
Even as the Supreme Court has formed a three-member Committee of senior judges to probe the harassment complaint, a senior lawyer has come out with allegations that someone had tried to ‘bribe’ him to represent the complainant. The lawyer, Utsav Bains (in pic)
, told the Supreme Court that he was initially offered Rs 50 lakh and then Rs 1.5 crore to take up the case but he declined to do so as he found several loopholes in the complaint. These averments must also be investigated.
A side effect of the controversy has been requests from other judges of Supreme Court that female staff from their residences be replaced by male staff. This has much bigger implications. Women constitute 50 per of the population and are increasingly joining the work force. If such demands start coming from various other quarters it would badly affect the cause of women empowerment across the country.
Clearly there is much at stake pertaining to the resolution of the case. Although the judiciary has got a taste of its own medicine, it must now follow the rule of law and proper procedures. What is required is an expeditious and quick verifications of the allegations against Justice Gogoi and exemplary punishment to whoever is found guilty.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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