On Tuesday, May 7, the Supreme Court in-house panel probing the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi gave him a clean chit.
SC’s decision provoked protests from around 30 activists and lawyers, who gathered outside the court in Delhi. The crowd also protested against SC’s procedure itself, as concerns have been raised about the in-house panel.
The three-judge in-house panel said “it did not find any substance in the allegations” against Gogoi.
The former employee who accused Gogoi of sexual harassment had previously expressed concern about the in-house panel reaching an unfair decision.
She had said Justice Ramana, previously appointed to the panel, was a close friend of Gogoi and would not be an impartial judge. Justice Indu Malhotra had subsequently replaced him.
The former employee had added that the in-house panel was informal and not set up under the Vishakha Guidelines.
However, she does not have any other method of legal redressal currently.
Protests against verdict in Delhi
“We want due process, not dude process” was one of the chants by the protesters. They also took issue with the committee’s report being kept confidential. But according to Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India, an in-house panel does not need to make its report public.
The Delhi Police tried to disperse the protesters and some journalists after the court imposed Section 144; under this, more than four people cannot gather in an area.
However, Bar and Bench reported that Delhi Police DCP Madhur Verma said Section 144 is imposed periodically in central Delhi, not specifically for these protests. Security in and around the court also was increased.
Journalist Gaurav Sarkar tweeted that he was put in a police van after he started recording the police “manhandling protestors without giving any sort of explanation as to why”.
After the allegations came to light on April 19, Gogoi presided over a hearing on the matter on April 20.
At this suo motu hearing—where the CJI exercised his authority to preside over the allegations without being formally asked to—the bench said the allegations were intended to malign Supreme Court’s independence.
Gogoi, who received backlash for presiding over the allegations against himself, said “the judiciary will not be made a scapegoat”.
At the hearing, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta asked Gogoi to allow him to register a formal complaint, but Gogoi said the court did not “want to do anything like that now”.
The SC also ordered the country’s premier intelligence agencies to investigate an affidavit filed by advocate Utsav Bains, who claims the allegations are false and a “conspiracy” against Gogoi.
Bains has said he was bribed with Rs 1 crore to represent the former employee, who, he believes, is making false allegations. The allegations have been concocted by a “fixer” named Romesh Sharma, who is working with former Jet Airways CEO Naresh Goyal and Dawood Ibrahim to ruin Gogoi’s reputation, alleged Bains.
What are the allegations?
On April 19, a former employee of CJI Gogoi accused him of sexually harassing her at and outside workplace. The unnamed employee presented an affidavit, detailing her experience with Gogoi, to 22 SC judges.
She alleged that Gogoi would persistently call and message her outside office hours and later check that she deleted any such correspondence from her phone. She also said that Gogoi had called her to his office, where he forcefully ran his hands around her body, hugged her, and asked her to reciprocate.
“I was forced to push him away with my hands,” she said.
After resisting his advances, the former employee said she was shuffled through different departments and later hauled up for “insubordination, lack of devotion to duty, and indiscipline”.
She alleged that she was arrested by the Delhi Police in a false case, kicked and verbally abused while in custody, and even put in Tihar jail. She also said her brother and husband were suspended from their work.
“It now seems like the harassment, victimisation, and torture will not stop unless I speak out about the origin and motive for the harassment… now there is an imminent danger to my life that I am compelled to speak the whole truth, in order to save myself and my family,” she had said.
The Supreme Court Bar Association, Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association, activists and lawyers have called for an independent inquiry into the allegations.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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