Intern alleges sexual harassment by ex-judge

CJI takes cognizance, forms judges' panel to probe

Intern alleges sexual harassment by ex-judge

Stung by a law student’s allegation of sexual harassment against a retired Supreme Court judge, the apex court on Tuesday formed a three-judge committee to examine veracity of the charges.

A three-judge bench, presided over by Chief Justice P Sathasivam, decided to set up a committee suo motu, after the alleged incident was mentioned by Attorney General G E Vahanvati.

The committee comprises Justices R M Lodha, H L Dattu and Ranjana Prakash Desai. It is likely to record the complainant’s statement. The judge may be issued a notice if she discloses his name.

The panel will submit its report to the chief justice of India, who would determine the future course of action.

The charge was the first of its kind in the recent history of higher judiciary.

The law student had accused the judge, since retired, of sexually assaulting her last December, when the country was witnessing protests over the December 16 Delhi gang-rape. She claimed that the incident occurred in a hotel room, during her internship under the judge. She first narrated the incident in a blog post for “Journal of Indian Law and Society” on November 6, and later in an interview.

After the attorney general made a submission on the intern’s allegations, the court admitted  that “sexual harassment is an extremely serious matter”.

“We are taking steps. We have formed a three-judge committee. We are also anxious if it (allegation) is true or not,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh.

“We will take action on the basis of the report. The committee starts working on Tuesday evening and they are going to issue notices to all persons concerned,” the bench said.

The woman, who graduated from the Kolkata-based National University of Juridical Sciences this year, did not disclose the name of the judge, but said he “retired recently”.

At present, she is working with the NGO Natural Justice, Lawyers for Communities and the Environment.

“In Delhi at that time, interning during the winter vacations of my final year in university, I dodged police barricades and fatigue to go to the assistance of a highly reputed, recently retired Supreme Court judge whom I was working under during my penultimate semester,” she had said.

“For my supposed diligence, I was rewarded with sexual assault (not physically injurious, but nevertheless violating) from a man old enough to be my grandfather,” the blog read.

She also justified her silence on the judge’s name. “I bore, and still bear, no real ill will towards the man, and had no desire to put his life’s work and reputation in question. On the other hand, I felt I had a responsibility to ensure that other young girls were not put in a similar situation. But I have been unable to find a solution that allows that. Despite the heated public debates, despite a vast army of feminist vigilantes, despite new criminal laws and sexual harassment laws, I have not found closure,” she wrote.

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