A topper at the National Law University in Delhi on Saturday skipped an event where she was to be awarded a gold medal in protest against the handling of sexual harassment charges against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, The Indian Express reported on Monday.
“Everything I learnt in the classroom put me in a moral quandary over the last few weeks on whether I should receive the award from CJI Gogoi,” Surbhi Karwa, who stood first in her Master of Laws class, told The Indian Express. “The institution he heads failed when sexual harassment allegations were made against him. I am seeking answers for myself on the role lawyers must play in guarding Constitutional values, and that is something even the CJI mentioned in his speech.”
Karwa specialised in Constitutional law, and her thesis was on the subject: “Is the Constitution a feminist document?”
In April, a woman, who had earlier worked as a junior court assistant at the Supreme Court, alleged in an affidavit that Gogoi made sexual advances on her at his residence office on October 10 and October 11, 2018. She had sent a complaint to 22 judges of the Supreme Court on April 19 and called for an inquiry into the actions of Gogoi, who she said not only harassed her but was also responsible for her subsequent victimisation, and that of her family.
Karwa said she was not rejecting the award. “Getting the gold medal itself is an honour and I am thankful to my parents and teachers who have helped me along the way,” Karwa said. “Receiving it from one person is not as important as getting it.”
The complainant had said that after she rebuffed the chief justice, she was moved out of his residence office, where she had been posted in August 2018, and later on December 21, dismissed from service. She claimed her husband and brother-in-law were suspended from the Delhi Police on December 28, 2018, for a criminal case involving a colony dispute dating back to 2012 that had been mutually resolved.
Gogoi denied the allegations during a special hearing he called on April 20. The chief justice said he did not “deem it appropriate” to reply to the allegations but claimed they were part of a “bigger plot”, possibly one to “deactivate the office of the CJI”.
On April 30, the woman withdrew from the inquiry as she had not been allowed to have a lawyer present at depositions and was not informed about the procedure that would be followed. On May 6, the in-house committee rejected her complaint and the court’s secretary general said the panel had found “no substance” in her allegations. The next day, the complainant had asked the court’s in-house committee to give her a copy of their report exonerating Gogoi. The court official said that the inquiry committee’s report was not liable to be made public.