‘She was my intern, like my child.’ This is the explanation given by ex-Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly for his alleged sexual misconduct towards a young woman. But the Chief Justice of India did not go by Justice Ganguly’s word that he was beyond reproach and ordered a three-judge committee to go into the allegations.
Unfortunately for Justice Ganguly, the committee has found that prima facie, there is a case for unwelcome sexual conduct. But the fact that this ‘unwelcome advance’ was made during his tenure as the chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, a post he still holds, makes it almost untenable for him to continue with business as usual.
It is only in keeping with propriety that he should step down until a thorough investigation is conducted and the report is submitted. He may be shocked and shattered as he says he is but it cannot have escaped his attention that given the nature of the office he holds, his staying on only diminishes this high institution.
The victim has given a detailed account of the unseemly conduct by the judge. This includes trying to get her to stay in his hotel room overnight, asking her to drink wine with him and also making physical advances. While these must be verified, Justice Ganguly should protect the commission from uncalled for attention by stepping aside for the moment.
Also, as is customary in our social and political milieu, the issue is becoming politicised. The Trinamool Congress has been vociferous in pressing for the judge to step down and there have been protests to that effect. Justice Ganguly should ensure that given his high office, the issue does not degenerate into an ugly political slugfest as the case of Tarun Tejpal’s alleged misconduct with a junior colleague did.
In the case of the judge too, it would appear that he apologised to the intern via text messages, a fact which can easily be verified. The more Justice Ganguly stays on in his post, the more opprobrium will attach to the judiciary. This would be a pity because even today, people repose enormous faith in this institution even as the credibility of others take a beating. It is hard to believe that an intern would take on a powerful judge on a whim or to settle scores.
There are already dark hints that it is previous judgements in highly politicised cases that could have led to a conspiracy against him. Justice Ganguly would serve his station well to move aside and have all these charges examined and his name cleared if he is innocent. As the late Justice JS Verma, a pre-eminent advocate of gender justice, said, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.”