Women’s groups, lawyers, activists, academics and writers issued a joint statement on Thursday expressing solidarity with the decision of the woman who accused Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment to withdraw from the proceedings of the in-house inquiry.
“The reasons given by her in the letter justify her decision to abstain, especially in the context of total imbalance of power vis-a-vis her on one side and the members of highest judiciary on the other,” they said.
The statement said Gogoi appeared before the in-house committee after the complainant decided to not participate in the process. “By this very conduct the committee has completely delegitimised itself,” the statement said. “If the committee continues to proceed with the enquiry instead of satisfactorily concluding the matter it will raise many more questions.”
The three-member committee of the Supreme Court constituted to investigate the allegations comprises Justices Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra and is headed by Justice SA Bobde.
The group reiterated that the constitution of the three-judge panel is “inherently flawed”. They said the chief justice was senior to the three judges hearing the complaint, that the committee did not adhere to Vishaka guidelines and that an external member was not present on the panel as per these guidelines.
“We write again, calling upon the Supreme Court judges to take corrective steps and put a halt to these proceedings,” the statement said. “If they fail to do so, not only the complainant but the citizens of this country, especially women and marginalized sections, will lose faith in the judicial system.”
The statement was endorsed by 333 people and groups, including Forum Against Oppression of Women, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, advocate Flavia Agnes, writer V Geetha, academic and researcher Susie Tharu, social activist Nityanand Jayaraman and members of the civil society.
On April 26, the Women in Criminal Law Association had demanded that proper procedure be followed in the inquiry into the allegation of sexual harassment against Gogoi.
Read the full statement here:
The Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court of India
We, members of women’s groups, lawyers, scholars and civil society, stand in solidarity with the decision of the complainant to withdraw from the in-house committee proceedings into her complaint of sexual harassment at workplace, against the Chief Justice of India. The reasons given by her in the letter justify her decision to abstain, especially in the context of total imbalance of power vis-a-vis her on one side and the members of highest judiciary on the other.
Post the complainant expressing her decision not to participate in the process, the Chief Justice of India is said to have appeared before the Committee and the Committee has decided to proceed with the enquiry ex-parte.
By this very conduct the committee has completely delegitimised itself. If the committee continues to proceed with the enquiry instead of satisfactorily concluding the matter it will raise many more questions.
We write again, calling upon the Supreme Court judges to take corrective steps and put a halt to these proceedings. If they fail to do so, not only the complainant but the citizens of this country, especially women and marginalized sections, will lose faith in the judicial system.
We are aware, that this is an extraordinary case that calls for extraordinary measures to be put in place, as this is a matter pertaining to the highest judicial authority under the constitution.
However, extraordinary measures cannot and ought not to overlook, fundamental principles of natural justice and fair hearing.
We reiterate that the constitution of the three-judge committee is inherently flawed, as the Chief Justice is senior to the three judges hearing the complaint and head of the Institution. The Committee also does not adhere to the spirit of either the 2013 Act or the Vishaka Guidelines, laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court itself in 1997. The absence of an external member, whose role is to ensure that there is no undue pressure or influence on either the complainant or the witnesses during the enquiry, casts a shadow on the intent behind and the purpose of setting up this Committee itself.
Further, failing to stipulate the procedure to be followed, terming the proceeding as an ‘informal’, and not allowing a lawyer/support person to be present, completely ignores the unequal balance of power not only between the parties but also between the complainant and the Committee itself.
The procedure established by law has not only to be followed by those subordinates to the Hon’ble Supreme Court, but by the Supreme Court itself. Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India would have no meaning otherwise.
If the highest judicial authority does not follow its own procedures and stand up in support of the less powerful, it will send a message of disquiet to all those keeping faith in the system.
In order to maintain this faith and to stand with the less powerful, the complainant in this case, we implore the present Committee to immediately stop hearing this Complaint. We once again demand of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India:
a) A Special Enquiry Committee consisting of credible individuals be constituted to conduct a thorough enquiry at the earliest and create an atmosphere of transparency and confidence for the complainant to depose.
b) The Special Enquiry Committee should follow the norms of the IC and the principles of natural justice and accordingly conduct its enquiry.
c) The Chief Justice of India should refrain from transacting official duties and responsibilities until the completion of the enquiry.
d) The complainant must be allowed to be represented by a lawyer/support person of her choice.
Meanwhile, 165 alumni of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore on Thursday backed the two letters written by the Women in Criminal Law Association. The alumni said that the Supreme Court “appears to have fallen well below” what the best practices in sexual harassment cases investigations require.
“It is our view that the court must hold itself to the highest standards in cases involving allegations of sexual harassment,” the alumni wrote. “We do not believe that has happened in this case.”