Over 50 lawyers, journalists, activists and students gathered outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi this morning to protest against the investigation of an inquiry panel that found “no substance” in the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. But soon after, 55 protestors – 52 women, three men – were taken into police buses and detained at Mandir Marg police station.
They have been there since 10.45 am.
“They are not letting us leave,” said activist Amrita Johri, who was also detained. “They said around 2 pm that we could leave and then police personnel blocked the exit. They have not given any reasons for detaining us.”
Some protestors also alleged being manhandled by police personnel.
“The police pushed and shoved us into the bus,” alleged Maya Krishna Rao, a theatre artist. “I came to register my solidarity. I saw one bus load of women being taken and some of us started to disperse from there. Some female police came and made a ring around us as we were walking away. They forcibly made us into a group. There was an argument between the police and us. They did not let us walk and the second bus came. They pushed us in,” said Rao, 66.
She added that female police personnel received orders from male personnel to pack the protesting women into the bus. “They were giving them orders to get us in. They yanked my arm. That came to me as a big shock. They wanted to somehow fill up the second bus.”
The protest came in the wake of a sudden clean chit to Gogoi on May 6, following an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. On April 19, a 35-year-old complainant, who worked as a junior court assistant, alleged in an affidavit that Gogoi made sexual advances to her in October 2018. An in-house inquiry committee was formed to look into the allegations. However, on April 30, the complainant decided to withdraw from the inquiry but the committee decided to carry it forward in her absence. Gogoi appeared before the panel on May 1.
According to protestors, there were two police buses that brought 55 of them to the police station. Inside the station, they were detained and were made to sit in a hall while police personnel stood watching. While they were not allowed to leave, they sang songs and raised slogans demanding the freedom for women to work without facing instances of sexual harassment.
A protestor who was detained by police claimed that he saw police personnel drag others into the bus. “This was entirely uncalled for,” said Gautam Mody, general secretary of New Trade Union Initiative. “I saw them drag someone who has a broken hand and other senior women. This is completely disproportionate to the size of the crowd and to the fact that we are a democracy and have the right to protest.”
“This reflects very poorly on the judiciary,” said a protestor requesting anonymity. “A few constables surrounded us and we were pushed into the van forcibly. A lot of senior citizens who did not want to get into the van were manhandled. Some of them have suffered bruises. The fact is that they put the Vishakha Guidelines out and have the [Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)] Act passed. But when the scandal hit the Supreme Court, they did not think of applying those guidelines for themselves.”
Protestors who were earlier outside the Supreme Court chanted slogans against the inquiry panel’s findings and demanded a fresh investigation to look into the complaint.
A protestor said that the procedures followed to look into the allegations against Gogoi were “anti-judicial”. “They have gone against every rule and code of conduct,” said Rushda, a member of National Federation of Indian Women. “This highlights corruption in the judiciary. The claims made by the woman were so easily dismissed. She documented all her claims but because they were against Gogoi, they were dismissed so easily.”
“We had a feeling that this is what would happen and it did,” said lawyer Poonam Kaushik about the inquiry panel’s investigation into the accusations against Gogoi. “This shows how the top most person in an institution misuses his power and the entire institution when he is accused of sexual harassment. Gogoi’s role shows that he has tried to malign the complainant.”