A 35-year-old woman accused Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment on Friday, 19 April.
The former junior court assistant submitted an affidavit to 22 judges of the Supreme Court on Friday morning, outlining how Gogoi sexually harassed her, and how she was further victimised and dismissed from her post.
She alleged that Gogoi made sexual advances on her while they were at his residence office on 10 and 11 October, last year.
Gogoi, however, through the office of the Secretary General of the Supreme Court has denied the allegations, calling them “completely and absolutely false and scurrilous,” Scroll reported.
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‘False Cases Lodged Against Her’
“Her entire family has been harassed, victimised and intimidated. Thereafter, false criminal cases have been lodged against her. So there is relentless intimidation and victimisation that is going on not just to silence her but to also punish her. She has narrated everything supported by documents,” senior advocate and human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover told The Quint.
What the Affidavit Says
In the affidavit submitted in court, which The Quint has a copy of, the woman said that after she rejected the efforts of the CJI, she was moved out of his residence office, where she was posted since August 2018.
“He hugged me around the waist, and touched me all over my body with his arms and by pressing his body against mine, and did not let go,” the woman recounted, as per the affidavit.
“He told me ‘hold me’, he did not let go of me despite the fact that I froze and tried to get out of his embrace by stiffening and moving my body away,” she added.
Two months after she was moved, she was dismissed from service in December. One of the three grounds for dismissal, as detailed in the inquiry report, was that she had taken a casual leave of one day without approval.
The harassment did not stop at her dismissal, the former junior court assistant has alleged in the affidavit. It engulfed her entire family, she claimed. Her husband and brother-in-law, both of whom are head constables in Delhi Police, were suspended on 28 December 2018, the affidavit alleged. This was regarding a case involving a colony dispute dating back to 2012 that had been mutually resolved, it added.
What Led the Woman to Submit the Affidavit
A case was lodged against the woman in March 2019 in which she was arrested and jailed for a day; she is currently out on bail. “On 3 March, someone called Naveen, who nobody knows, lodged a case that in 2017 this lady told me she will get me a job in the Supreme Court so I gave her Rs 50,000 and after two years he suddenly remembers to put an FIR. Even otherwise, the person who gives bribe is also to be charged. He is not charged, she is picked up and put into jail. She comes out. Now a cancellation of bail has been sought for her,” Grover told The Quint.
Elaborating on what was the final push that led the woman to voice her complaint, Grover added, “After remaining silent even though she lost her job, everybody (in her family) was suspended. After that when she was put into jail she is now saying that even when I am remaining silent he is not leaving me alone. Me and my family are being destroyed relentlessly so she has no choice but to go public. So she has placed her case before 22 judges of the Supreme Court saying please help me (sic).”
Allegations Part of a ‘Bigger Plot’ to ‘Deactivate the Office of CJI’: Gogoi
A special bench of the Supreme Court including the Chief Justice and Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna was constituted to have a special sitting on the matter. The notice for the same noted that they were sitting “to deal with a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of judiciary.”
Reacting to the allegation during the sitting, CJI Gogoi said, “All I would like to say is this, undoubtedly every employees are treated fairly and decently. This employee was there for a month-and-a-half. Allegations came and I didn't deem it appropriate to reply to the allegations,” he said.
However, he went on to allege that that the allegations were part of a “bigger plot”, which sought to “deactivate the office of the CJI”. He claimed that the independence of the judiciary was under threat and that if judges had to work under conditions like this, “good people will never come to this office”. The Chief Justice sought to defend his integrity by pointing out that he only had Rs 6.8 lakhs in his bank account.
The CJI also tried to portray the complainant and her family as having criminal antecedents, mentioning that there were two FIRs against her, and that two criminal cases were pending against her husband. He questioned how she had been appointed to the Supreme Court despite having a criminal background – it should be noted that Scroll checked the documents relating to these previous cases against her and found they had been settled by mutual agreement, and that the case against her husband from 2012 had also been compounded.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta had mentioned the matter before the court, leading to the hearing, and was present in court along with Attorney General KK Venugopal.
Venugopal claimed that the names of parties involved in the matter couldn’t be published under Section 16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2013. The Supreme Court Bar Association president said that publishing names attracted a penalty under this section.
No judicial orders were finally passed by the bench, though Justice Arun Mishra asked for the media to show “restraint, responsibility and wisdom so that independence of the judiciary is not affected by baseless allegations.”
‘Deliberate Misinterpretation’: Vrinda Grover Slams Statements in Court on Section 16
Grover, speaking to The Quint, took exception to the attempts in court to raise the issue of Section 16 of the Sexual Harassment Act.
“In the Special hearing in the Supreme Court today, the reliance on S.16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a deliberate misinterpretation of the provision,” she said. She explained why this was so as follows:
“The confidentiality imposed by Section 16 of the SH Act is only when the complaint is being enquired into by the ICC . At present she has no forum to file a complaint and has in her letter and affidavit to the 22 Justices of the Supreme Court has asked for a Special Inquiry committee of retired Supreme Court Judges to enquire into her complaint.”
“S.16 has to be read in the context of the statement of aims and objective of the 2013 SH Act which is to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment of women at the workplace. Law and public policy recognise that the identity of the woman victim requires to be protected to prevent further victimisation. It is ludicrous for Section 16 to be used as a shield to protect perpetrators or other persons who are complicit.”
“Public interest requires that the identity of persons occupying public positions is made known when they are accused of any misconduct, including the misconduct of sexual harassment.”
“In a situation where such grave allegations have been made against a person holding the position of Chief Justice of India, Complete information must be available in the public domain as transparency is a necessary pre-requisite for accountability, essential to uphold peoples confidence in the Judiciary.”
The text of Section 16 is as follows:
“16. Prohibition of publication or making known contents of complaint and inquiry proceedings.- Notwithstanding anything contained in the Right to Information Act, 2005 (22 of 2005), the contents of the complaint made under section 9, the identity and addresses of the aggrieved woman, respondent and witnesses, any information relating to conciliation and inquiry proceedings, recommendations of the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, and the action taken by the employer or the District Officer under the provisions of this Act shall not be published, communicated or made known to the public, press and media in any manner…”