Chief Justice Gogoi Says Sexual Harassment Allegations Are Attempt To Undermine Judicial Independence
The Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, in a special weekend hearing today, said the judiciary was under threat and denied allegations of sexual harassment by a former staffer of the Supreme Court.
The CJI assembled a three-judge bench that included him and Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjeev Khanna on a mention by Tushar Mehta, the solicitor general of India. The mentioning came after the complainant sent letters to 22 sitting judges recalling her ordeal. Details of the accusations were also published in digital media organisations The Caravan, Wire.in, The Leaflet, and Scroll.in.
The complainant alleged that she faced harassment on two separate instances. Both the incidents allegedly took place in October 2018, only days after Gogoi was appointed to India’s highest judicial office.
After she refused his alleged sexual advances, the complainant, who worked in the chief justice's office, alleged in an affidavit that she and her family faced “consistent persecution,” including the loss of their jobs and subsequently, arrest and torture in police custody.
“I say that the CJI has misused his position, office, and authority and abused his clout and power to influence the police,” her affidavit said. “I have been victimised for resisting and refusing the unwanted sexual advances of the CJI and my entire family has also been victimised and harassed due to that.” says the affidavit, excerpts of which were published on online news portals.
At the beginning of the sudden hearing held this morning Chief Justice Gogoi informed the court that the letter was making the rounds in the media, and said every employee is treated fairly and decently at the Supreme Court. He said the former employee of the apex court had pending criminal cases against her.
The Chief Justice said that while he would not be deciding on the issue himself, he had called the hearing to say that the judiciary is under threat.
Gogoi said there was a plot against the institution and “this goes beyond the person making the allegations.” He said a separate bench will be assembled to pass the appropriate orders in the case.
The CJI found support from the Attorney General and the Solicitor General of India. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said it “sounds like a blackmail technique.”
The Supreme Court of India order was uploaded after the hearing, interestingly signed only by the other two judges, says ‘’having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture, leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable.’’
Over a decade ago the Supreme Court of India set down guidelines to address sexual harassment at the workplace. The acclaimed Vishaka judgment, thereafter, became the basis of a new law on the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace.
The Supreme Court website details guidelines on sexual harassment at the court.
The guidelines provide for a Gender Sensitization Internal Complaints Committee to address allegations of sexual harassment and setting up of an internal sub-committee to conduct a fact-finding inquiry. The three-member sub-committee has to include an external member and the majority members will have to be women.
But it's not clear if the same procedure applies to sexual harassment allegations against sitting judges or the chief justice.