Fri. May 24th, 2019

Protest in India after chief justice cleared of sexual harassment

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Dozens have protested outside India‘s Supreme Court, a day after a panel of judges dismissed a sexual harassment complaint against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

The protesters carried placards and shouted slogans on Tuesday calling for an impartial investigation into allegations against Gogoi by a former court assistant of having made unwanted sexual advances last year.

“Transparent and fair due process is a must,” read one of the placards, while another read, “supreme injustice”.

“The in-house committee found no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint,” the Supreme Court’s secretary general said in a brief statement on Monday, dismissing the woman’s complaint.

In its Monday statement, the top court said the panel’s report had been submitted to a senior judge of the court as well as to the chief justice, without elaborating. The report will not be made public, it said.

The 35-year-old woman, who worked as a junior court assistant, said in a statement she was “not just highly disappointed and dejected” but felt “gross injustice” had been done to her by the dismissal of her complaint.

The case involving India’s most powerful judge is the most high-profile in a wave of allegations of sexual harassment that have been made public by women since last year as the #MeToo movement has swept the country.

On Tuesday, security was strengthened outside the court, with dozens of paramilitary police and trucks carrying water cannon deployed in the area.

Police quickly dispersed the crowd and most protesters were taken away in police vans soon after they gathered.

“It has been four hours now but we are still in the police station. They are not letting us go,” said Vani Subramanian, a women’s rights activist and one of the organisers of today’s protest.

“We were not allowed to protest even for five minutes!” lawyer Amritananda Chakravorty said in a Twitter post.

Journalist Gaurav Sarkar said that he had been “chucked” into a police van for covering the protest.

Police at the site said it was illegal to hold demonstrations at the Supreme Court.

Complaint

In her complaint to the court last month, the woman accused Gogoi of harassing her when she worked at his residential office last year.

“He hugged me around the waist, and touched me all over my body with his arms and by pressing his body against mine, and did not let go,” she wrote in an affidavit seen by the AFP news agency.

“He told me ‘hold me’, he did not let go of me despite the fact that I froze and tried to get out of his embrace by stiffening and moving my body away,” the document said.

The woman, whose identity has been withheld, claimed she was dismissed from her job and her family had been harassed after she rebuffed Gogoi’s advances.

She also said she was summoned by Gogoi’s wife who asked her to prostrate herself and rub her nose at her feet to seek forgiveness.

Last week, the woman withdrew from proceedings of the three-member panel of judges investigating the case, saying she did not expect justice from it.

“There was no external member in the inquiry committee,” Amrita Johri, an activist, told Al Jazeera.

“Secondly, once the woman withdrew because she wasn’t given a lawyer, they should have stopped the proceedings but they went ahead and did an ex-parte report.

“Now they are unwilling to give the copy of the report to the woman or to make it public,” said Johri, who was detained by the police along with dozens of other protesters.

Gogoi has called the allegations part of a wider conspiracy to taint India’s judiciary, without elaborating.

The chief justice and members of the committee were not available for comment.

In a statement on Tuesday, a group of 350 women’s rights activists and civil society members called for a fresh inquiry into the accusations.

“This case has exposed the urgent need for just, transparent and fair procedures to be laid down as soon as possible…what is at stake is not just the rights of women, but also the credibility of the Supreme Court,” they said.

Additional reporting by Bilal Kuchay from New Delhi

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/protest-india-chief-justice-cleared-sexual-harassment-190507080110762.html

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