“A matter of great importance touching upon judiciary’s independence”

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”.

This column first appeared in the Hindustan Times on July 24, 2021

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