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.
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.
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.