Ensure justice, in the courts and beyond
At the height of the 2019 sexual harassment scandal involving then chief justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, ran the frisson of a rumour — was there a larger conspiracy?
Gogoi has since retired and is now a Rajya Sabha member nominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government. His accuser, after being dismissed from service, has been quietly reinstated.
All would have been forgotten but for the Pegasus revelation that the woman and 11 phone numbers associated with her were potential targets of surveillance. Who had the power to subject a junior court assistant to a level of global scrutiny that reportedly includes 10 prime ministers, three presidents and a king? Was the intended target someone else? Was there a quid pro quo? One can only speculate since Gogoi has refused to comment.
The story, reported in The Wire, indicates that the woman became a “person of interest” after she sent an affidavit to 22 Supreme Court (SC) judges on April 19, 2019, complaining she had “been victimised for resisting and refusing the unwanted sexual advances of the CJI.” The 12,300-word affidavit details how she joined the SC library in 2014, was transferred to Gogoi’s court two years later and how, in 2018, when he became CJI, she was transferred to his home office. She and her husband attended his swearing-in. He helped her disabled brother-in-law get a job as a court attendant.
Where it gets murky is with what happened after the affidavit went public. The woman was transferred thrice, and then sacked. Her husband and his brother were suspended from their jobs. In March 2020, she was arrested on charges that were subsequently dropped. For many women, her story is a chilling tale of just how far a powerful, patriarchal system can go in punishing women who speak up.
A three-judge enquiry turned down her request to explain the procedure or allow her a support person during the proceedings; so, she withdrew from it. The report exonerated Gogoi but has never been made public or shown to the complainant. Another enquiry into allegations of a larger “conspiracy” has also remained outside the public realm.
In the wake of Pegasus, the woman’s lawyer Vrinda Grover told me, “Prima facie, it appears there is credibility to her complaint.” But, she added, the woman would not participate in any future enquiry since she has lost faith in getting justice.
Yet, it is precisely to restore faith that the Pegasus revelation about her apparent surveillance must be probed. This is not about one woman or even about all women who speak up. This is about reassuring half this country’s citizens that justice is our constitutional right; that there is zero tolerance for the abuse of power; that we are not wrong to repose our faith in our highest court.
It is in every citizen’s interest to know the truth about this sordid saga. It is, after all, a “matter of great public importance touching upon judiciary’s independence”.
Namita Bhandare writes on gender
The views expressed are personal
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