Double standards

It is hard to dispel the feeling that the Supreme Court panel inquiring into sexual harassment allegations against Justice Ashok Ganguly has taken a soft-handed approached to the retired judge’s misconduct.

The panel holds the judge prima facie guilty of “unwelcome behaviour” and “unwelcome conduct of sexual nature” with the lawyer-intern. However, it lays out its findings in language that is rather mild. Worse, it has neither censured the judge nor recommended further action against him. The report says that “no further follow-up action is required by this Court,” as the intern was not on the Supreme Court’s rolls and Ganguly had demitted office before the incident took place. The panel may be technically right. But its kids’ gloves treatment of the judge’s sexual misconduct is deeply disappointing. Here was an opportunity for the Supreme Court to show its deep commitment to fighting sexual harassment especially when one of its own is the perpetrator of that harassment. At the very least, it could have issued a strong statement on the matter and recommended further action. In failing to do so, it has revealed that for all its tough talk on sexual violence perpetrated by others, it is just a paper tiger when such violence is unleashed by its own.

The panel’s report lays bare the judiciary’s double standards. In recent decades, the Supreme Court has gone beyond its brief to speak up and even to right wrongs. Yet, when it comes to writing a report on a judge’s misconduct it hides behind legalese and being technically correct. Again, it was the Supreme Court, which took the lead in making workplaces safe for women, when it recommended that all establishments must set up an internal complaints committee to deal with sexual misconduct. Yet, it failed to set up such a committee itself. The apex court doesn’t seem to take its own directives seriously.
It is heartening that the Delhi Police have contacted the aggrieved intern to find out if she wishes to file a formal complaint. If she does, the matter will go to court. Will the courts then ensure her a fair trial or will the courts stand by one of their own yet again? Justice Ganguly is a powerful man and he has friends in the highest places in the judiciary. This case will decide not just Ganguly’s fate but how fair India’s courts are when a former judge is in the dock. Besides Ganguly, India’s judiciary too will be on trial.

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