Disorder in the House

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.

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December 16 gangrape: Five years on, why the streets don’t belong equally to women

Every woman has a story, the man who ‘accidentally’ touches her in the metro, the schoolboys who chase her in the park for sport, the masturbating pervert late at night on the bus. We learn to ignore it – rule #1 of the street: never, ever make eye contact – but sometimes it spills over into a serious crime. And, always it’s our fault.

An Indian woman who has never had to deal with molestation on public transportation and in open spaces is a rare species. For too many of us, commuting to school, college and work is an everyday hazard.

This year began with the horrors of the mass assault of women on New Year’s eve on the streets of Bengaluru. To understand just how much things had changed – or hadn’t – became clear when at year end, a 17-year-old actress took to social media to describe her ordeal during a Delhi-Mumbai flight.

An investigation is on, but regardless of the findings, the incident has brought to light the ugly reality of sexual assault in public spaces. Continue reading “December 16 gangrape: Five years on, why the streets don’t belong equally to women”

Lounge Review | Satyamev Jayate Episode 1: The rape roadmap

Redemption really came in the final segment of the show when Aamir Khan interviewed two remarkable rape survivors.

In the two hours that it took to telecast the first episode of Star Plus’ second season of Satyamev Jayate, over five women and girls would have reported rape somewhere in India. In a country where a woman is raped every 22 minutes, over five women would have lived out what Aamir Khan outlined as the ordeal of a rape survivor. Somewhere a girl or woman would have been telling police the details of how she had been raped and by whom; she would be preparing to submit to the humiliation of a medical examination as described in the show though, of course, there would have been no way of her knowing just then that her fight for justice would take her through a long legal battle that could take decades. Continue reading “Lounge Review | Satyamev Jayate Episode 1: The rape roadmap”

A new courage, a new defiance: changing the status quo

Sexual harassment is an abuse of power, a betrayal of trust and one of India’s worst-kept secrets. But one thing has changed, and it is the refusal of an increasing number of women to remain silent.

You could say it’s just another week in the life of working women in India. A retired Supreme Court judge is probed for sexual harassment. A high profile editor faces charges of sexual assault. And revelations emerge of a massive surveillance effort on a working woman in Gujarat, allegedly by then home minister Amit Shah at the behest of an unnamed “saheb”.

Each instance involves powerful men in roles that demand public accountability. Two cases bring home the terrifying brutality of that violence, and the inordinate courage it takes to stand up against it.

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An inconvenient truth

In India we are leap years away from giving women a just work environment.

The unlamentable fall of Phaneesh Murthy should have been a clear signal of zero tolerance by managements towards sexual harassment. The collective tut-tutting by the IT industry — ‘message to all leaders in business’, ‘right decision’ etc — should have come with the acknowledgement that sexual harassment in the workplace does exist. In fact, neither has happened.

Murthy hasn’t been sacked for sexual harassment, as some headlines seem to suggest. He’s been shown the door for failing to report a relationship with a subordinate, a decision taken after she threatened legal action against the company (iGate) and Murthy. A potential multi-million lawsuit can be a rather powerful motivation to act.

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A tipping point for change

A terrible thing happened to a girl who was trying to get back home after a movie. To not respond or speak or rage or demand change would make us less than human.

How many went to bed that night with the same questions?

What kind of human does this to another?

How could they beat her so brutally?

How brazen to think they could get away with it?

Meanwhile, the younger of my teenage daughters wants to celebrate the end of her exams by going out with friends for dinner to the same mall where the previous night the 23-year-old student had gone to see Life of Pi (did she like it? Did she get a lump in her throat in the same parts that I did.

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