Protesters Gather at Supreme Court After Chief Justice is Cleared of Sexual Harassment
Protests were held outside India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 7. Dozens of demonstrators gathered to protest the court’s decision to dismiss a complaint of sexual harassment against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The protest was dispersed almost immediately by local police, who stated that it was illegal to host a demonstration at the Supreme Court. Amritanada Chakravorty, a lawyer at the protest, tweeted, “We were not allowed to protest even for five minutes!”
Indian police detained 50 women at the protest. Journalists covering the rally were immediately released. Paramilitary officers and trucks have been posted at the court for extra security following the protest.
“The in-house committee found no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint,” explained Shri Sanjeev S. Kalgaonkar, in a released statement on May 6.
A group of 350 women’s rights activists, lawyers and civilians congregated at the rally to demand a new inquiry into the allegations and for the investigation report to be made public.
The group released a statement explaining that “This case has exposed the urgent need for just, transparent and fair procedures to be laid down as soon as possible...what is at stake is not just the rights of women, but also the credibility of the Supreme Court.”
Indira Jaising, a senior advocate, took to Twitter to call the court’s decision a “scandal,” and supported the public release of the report.
Gogoi’s accuser, whose identity has been withheld, filed an affidavit on April 19 detailing the account. The woman is a 35-year old former court assistant. She alleged that Gogoi made unwanted advances towards her last year on October 10 and 11, the same month he was sworn into office.
The accuser detailed, in the affidavit, that Gogoi had, “...hugged me around the waist, and touched me all over my body with his arms and by pressing his body against mine, and did not let go.”
After filing the affidavit, the woman was fired from her job and stated that her family has been harassed for publicly rejecting Gogoi’s advances.
In a statement regarding the dismissal of the accuser, Kalgoankar explained that the woman had been fired for “inappropriate conduct.”
Gogoi has denied the allegations and called them an attempt to “destabilize the judiciary.”
An in-house committee of three judges was assigned to investigate the allegations against Gogoi. The panel had no external members and consisted of Justices S.A. Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra.
The accuser withdrew from attending court proceedings during the third hearing on April 30 because she did not expect justice from it. The woman explained that the committee had denied all of her requests including, a video-recorded deposition and access to a lawyer.
The committee proceeded to submit an inquiry report on Monday to the senior judge of the court and the chief justice. The panel did not elaborate on why the report will not be made public.
In an interview with The Wire, the accuser stated that she had requested a copy of the final report from the in-house committee.
“They have already said that my allegations have no substance. I want to know what is the reason because I gave them all the evidence,” explained the accuser. “I had already stated each and everything in my affidavit. So what made them come to this conclusion, I have no idea.”
The woman has also filed a petition against the dismissal of her job.
Other lawyers and Supreme Court judges, including Jaising and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, have criticized the committee for proceeding with the inquiry after the accuser withdrew from the hearings. The inquiry has also been criticized for not following the guidelines of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The attorney general, K.K. Venugopal, also wrote a letter to all Supreme Court judges stating that any committee investigating the accuser’s allegations should have external members on its board, specifically retired female judges in order to assure transparency and fairness.
The allegations against Gogoi have been the most high-profile case since the #MeToo movement gained ground in India last year.