In 2019, a junior woman staffer accused then chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment and, subsequently, a targeted harassment of her and her family. The Pegasus revelations tell us that her phone and that of 11 phones associated with her was likely under surveillance along with those of 10 prime ministers, 3 presidents and one king.
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.
A conversation that began after the 2012 Delhi gangrape has grown louder. We may be miles away from a world free of sexual violence, but we are certainly a few notches closer.
So, was it worth it, after all? One year after India’s MeToo movement, it isn’t out of place to paraphrase TS Eliot’s existential question.
On the face of it, there is plenty to be depressed about. A law student who has accused former minister Chinmayanand of raping her had to threaten suicide over the failure of the State to act. Police action was much delayed, though the accused has now been arrested.
The Bombay High Court has quashed a 2004 sexual harassment case against angel investor Mahesh Murthy, since the delay is not “properly explained”.
Actor Aamir Khan, who, in 2018, stepped down as the producer of Mogul after the director, Subhash Kapoor, was accused of sexual misconduct, is back in the film playing the lead. Khan says he was troubled that his decision might have cost Kapoor his “right to work”.
In October 2018, unshackled from decades of silence, an army of women in India joined a global outpouring against sexual harassment. This movement across 195 countries, expressed via 25 or so sister hashtags (#BabaeAko in the Philippines; #SendeAnlat in Turkey), garnered over 36 million impressions between 2016 and July 2019, found a United Nations report, “What Will it Take?” It “enabled conversations and connections that together have shaken hitherto stable systems of abuse and power”, notes the report.
My Hindustan Times column looks at what is perhaps the biggest scandal to hit the Supreme Court with the Chief Justice of India accused of sexual harassment.
Their lordships have sworn to uphold Constitutional values of equality and dignity. Their courtrooms have delivered landmark judgments, like Vishaka, which affirmed women’s right to a safe workplace and preceded the law on sexual harassment by 16 years.
Now, one of its own, a first among equals, stands accused of sexual harassment. A signed affidavit by a former Supreme Court employee sits on the desk of 22 Supreme Court judges. It alleges not just sexual harassment but the targeted victimisation of the woman and her family for rebuffing the advances of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi in October last year, she says.
This was the apex court’s chance to shine. Instead, it has lurched from crisis to crisis.
Within days, the CJI himself sat in on an extraordinary Saturday hearing to look into a “matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary”. If the charge of sexual harassment is unprecedented, so is the use of a Supreme Court bench to launch a personal defence and malign a complainant.