Category Archives: Statements

THE SUPREME COURT MUST UPHOLD THE RULE OF LAW TO PROTECT ITS INDEPENDENCE

WSS demands an independent inquiry as per law into sexual harassment complaint against CJI, not reprisals against the complainant and illegal detentions of protestors

On May 7, 2019 the “informal in-house committee”, comprising Justices Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra, returned a finding that the sexual harassment complaint against the sitting CJI Ranjan Gogoi by his former employee carried “no substance”. The Committee has not made its report public or furnished a copy to the complainant. This not only violates due process, but thwarts the complainant’s right to appeal. The complainant was not afforded a reasonable opportunity of being heard, and upon her withdrawal, the proceedings were conducted ex-parte. The complainant withdrew from the proceedings on 01 May 2019 citing “fear, anxiety and trauma”.

The process adopted by the Supreme Court in addressing this complaint of sexual harassment has been illegal and unethical right from the beginning, reflecting a shocking abuse of power by the sitting Chief Justice and a grave subversion of the independent judicial process. The complainant’s “Me Too” disclosure against the CJI, furnished in a signed affidavit to twenty-two Judges of SC, providing extensive details of her experience of sexual harassment, intimidation and victimisation, against herself and her family, was met with an extraordinary hearing on the morning of 20 April 2019 regarding a matter of great public importance affecting the independence of the judiciary. The CJI sat as a judge in his own case (though his name did not appear in the order sheet of the proceedings), offered opening remarks on his honour and reputation, and passed disparaging comments against the complainant, in the presence of two other Supreme Court justices and the Solicitor General. The Supreme Court, it appears, finds the CJI above the very laws that it is constitutionally bound to uphold. The SC has turned inward to protect one of its own, which has come at the cost of the integrity of the highest judicial body of this country.

This was followed by the constitution of the Justice Bobde Committee as an informal in-house panel, ad hoc in nature, in complete violation of the Vishaka Guidelines laid down by the same Supreme Court in 1997, and encoded in the POSH Act 2013. The law requires the presence of external members on the committee to ensure independence and impartiality of the process, particularly since the complaint was against the senior-most Judge in the country. We condemn the manner in which this ad-hoc committee conducted its enquiry into the charges of the former employee of the SC. This committee not only refused to let the complainant bring her advocate/support person to the hearing, but also adopted procedures that deny the complainant the right to fair redressal. The refusal to provide the complainant a copy of her own statements, and proceed with the enquiry ex-parte even when the complainant gave her reasons in writing for withdrawing, is evidence of the ways in which the rule of law were bent to suit the “distinguished” perpetrator. Further, the Supreme Court’s denial to provide a copy of the final report wherein this committee has given a clean-chit to the CJI renders the complainant unable to ascertain on what grounds her complaint was dismissed, the ability to appeal any such decision. Additionally, the conduct of those in power, particularly the Bar Council of India and other state Bar Associations, against one complainant actively discourages complainants from accessing the legal redressal and works to silence those who dare to speak up.

Each of these are due process guarantees that have been won on the backs of arduous struggles by women’s movements to legislate against sexual violence and challenge the patriarchies of law and legal processes. This includes the struggles since the cases of Mathura and Bhanwari Devi, which led to the formation of Vishakha Guidelines, and the widespread civil society protests post December 2012, culminating in the Justice Verma Committee Report, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, and the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. There were repeated calls by lawyers, women’s and other progressive groups for the Supreme Court, as well as a sitting judge, to abide by the rule of law, more so when its own independence and reputation is at stake.

It bears mentioning that the Supreme Court’s treatment of sexual harassment allegations against their own “brother” judges in the past has also not inspired faith. Complaints against former Justice Ashok Ganguly in 2013, and against Justice Swatanter Kumar in 2014, were also met with ad hoc in-house proceedings, gag orders and defamation suits. Repeatedly, the Supreme Court is failing to hold their own to the highest morals deserving of their office.

Furthermore, efforts have been made to conflate the personal integrity of the CJI with the independence and honour of the Supreme Court. We believe that any individual irrespective of the office they hold, cannot be above the law when charged which sexual harassment, a cognisable offence. This was in fact an opportunity for the Supreme Court to show that the institution can constitute a free and fair inquiry against the highest judicial officer of the country. An inquiry which would have followed the rule of law set up and upheld in the past by the SC would have reposed faith in the public of this country.

Exceptionally, in the present case, the CJI is enjoying further protection of the central government, whose complicity in the matter should raise alarms for all those concerned about the independence of the judiciary. Not only was the extraordinary hearing on 20 April 2019 called on a mentioning by the Solicitor General, but Arun Jaitley, sitting Rajya Sabha MP and Finance Minister, wrote an extensive blog post on April 20, 2019, shielding the CJI and trying to co-opt the sexual harassment complaint into its propaganda of “conspiracies” by human rights activists and movements. It is the same propaganda that has now invited judicial proceedings against leading human rights lawyers and activists supporting the complainant and demanding accountability, namely, Indira Jaising, Anand Grover, Kamini Jaiswal, Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover, Shanti Bhushan, Neena Gupta Bhasin and Dushyant Dave. It is important to note that the CJI, as the master of the roster, continues to exercise authority over all such retributive cases through his power to assign cases. Combined with his presence on the bench on the 20 May extraordinary hearing, it is evident that in order to ensure a completely free and impartial redress to this complaint, it is imperative that CJI Ranjan Gogoi step down from juridical and administrative work, pending a fair process.

The same government’s repressive tactics were in action again on 7 May and 8 May, when the police summarily detained and physically abused more than 70 peaceful protestors on two consecutive days of protests, majority women, who were protesting the grave violation of due process in the Bobde Committee’s proceedings. The complicity of the present government in shielding the CJI, and distorting the narrative of the complainant as a “conspiracy” against the Supreme Court, needs to be addressed frontally by all democratic-minded citizens, as this is a government, which has systematically undermined constitutional institutions of the country through excessive interference, including in the Supreme Court.

The independence of the judiciary is not secured by subverting fundamental due process guarantees, vitiating the environment through baseless allegations of “conspiracy”, questioning the character of the complainant, and taking retributive action against her and those standing in solidarity with her. It is served by abiding by the rule of law, ensuring impartiality in judicial proceedings, and delivering accountability for all those abusing their constitutional powers.

WSS demands that:
• The Supreme Court hold an independent and impartial inquiry into sexual harassment complaint against the CJI as per the Vishaka Guidelines and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013;
• The Supreme Court ensure that the complainant gets adequate legal support, witness protection, and is shielded from intimidation and reprisals during and beyond the proceedings;
• The Bobde Committee release a copy of the Report to the complainant;
• CJI should step down from active juridical and administrative work until the inquiry is under way;
• Accountability for illegal detentions and manhandling of protestors on 7 and 8 May 2019.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
Conveners: Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin and Shalini;
Contact: againstsexualviolence@gmail.com

Advertisements

Statement On The Supreme Court Order On Eviction Of Forest-Dwellers

WSS condems Supreme Court Order on eviction of forest-dwellers

A death sentence for millions of Adivasis and traditional forest communities

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is dismayed and outraged at the Supreme Court order of 13th February 2019, directing state governments to evict Adivasis and other forest dwellers whose claims under the Forest Rights Act have been ‘rejected’.

There can be no greater irony than this – that these communities are being dispossessed in the name of the Forest Rights Act, the law that claims to correct “historical injustices” and restore the traditional rights of Adivasis and other traditional forest-dwellers and forest-dependent communities. Continue reading

WSS Statement On The #MeToo Violence In Bihar – Hindi

Please access the statement at following link:

Hindi WSS Statement #MeTooViolence in Bihar

 

WSS Statement Condemning Barbaric Sexual Assault and Murder of Dalit and Adivasi Minor Girls In Tamil Nadu

WSS Statement Condemning Barbaric Sexual Assault and Murder of Dalit and Adivasi Minor Girls In Tamil Nadu

15th November 2018

WSS strongly condemns the barbaric assault and murder of a minor dalit girl in the outskirts of Salem district in Tamil Nadu on October 22nd 2018 by her upper caste neighbor and the brutal murder of an adivasi girl in Dharmapuri on November 10th 2018.

In Salem, a man from the dominant Mudaliar caste had made sexual advances towards the victim, Rajalakshmi, which she had refused, and later reported to her mother. A student of class 8, Rajalakshmi was the daughter of a graveyard worker, native of village Thalavaipatti Theruku Kaadu near Attur, Salem district. Since she was 9 years old, she had been facing sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances and abuse at the hands of her upper caste Mudaliar neighbor who is now 26. Everyone in the village was aware of the sexual abuse she had been facing, yet no one dared to confront the perpetrator. Continue reading

WSS Statement On The Majority Judgement Of The Supreme Court Regarding The Arrests Of Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha And Varavara Rao

WSS condemns the majority judgment of the Supreme Court regarding the arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao

WSS deeply condemns the majority judgement of the Supreme Court which has dismissed the PIL filed by Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Satish Deshpande, Prabhat Patnaik and Maja Daruwalla and has in effect granted the notorious Pune Police impunity to carry on with its fabricated and malafide investigation in the Bhima Koregaon (FIR No. 4/2018) case. The Court in its vague majority judgement has failed to do its duty as a Constitutional Arbitrator and as the vanguard of the fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India to protect the liberty of the dissenting activists – who have been arrested by the Pune police which unabashedly flouted due process.   Continue reading

IIT Kanpur Alumni’s Statement In Support Of Advocate Sudha Bhardwaj And Others

We, a group of alumni of IIT Kanpur and others as students, researchers, faculty, staff and other community members affiliated with the same institute strongly condemn the arrest of IIT Kanpur alumna Sudha Bharadwaj (Integrated MSc., Mathematics, 1979-1984) and other activists namely, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao, and the raiding of houses of Anand Teltumbde, K. Satyanarayana and Stan Swamy among many others.

These arrests seem to be a mere sequel in an ongoing attempt to intimidate and arrest activists, eminent writers, professors, journalists, and human rights defenders around the country. Continue reading

WSS Statement On The Arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao

WSS Condemns Arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao

WSS strongly condemns targeted attack on democratic rights activists, blatantly retributive actions of Maharashtra Police and demands immediate and unconditional release of all arrested activists, lawyers, writers and journalists

WSS strongly condemns the arrests of its member Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, and the raids at the homes of Father Stan Swamy, Dr. Anand Teltumbde, Prof. K. Satyanarayana, Pavana, Anala, Kurmanath, Kranti Tekula and others conducted by the Maharashtra police along with the state police of Telangana, Jharkhand, Goa and Delhi. These searches and arrests are a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the spine chilling revelations about Hindu Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti in connection to the assassinations and bomb terror which they have been masterminding. 

On the 28th of August, in a coordinated operation, days before the 90 day period for judicial custody period of the five arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case end, several well known academics, lawyers, writers, poets, priests and journalists have been arrested and their homes raided by the police. Just under three months following the arrests of Professor Shoma Sen, Advocate Surendra Gadling, activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut, the Maharashtra police appear to be persistently cracking down on all voices that have stood in solidarity with them. This coordinated effort to harass and malign human rights activists all over the country is intended solely to create a sense of terror amidst the democratic people of this country and must be seen as a war against democracy. Despite the fact that no incriminating evidence has emerged in these cases, with no respect or regard for the law, the police continues to arbitrarily arrest and detain activists, lawyers, writers and professionals who have dedicated their lives to ensure that justice is served where it is due. Continue reading