259 women comprising lawyers, scholars, members of women's groups and civil society have written to the judges of the Supreme Court of India seeking constitution of a Special Enquiry Committee comprising "credible individuals" to probe within 90 days the charges of sexual harassment levelled at the Chief Justice of India by a former court staff while also demanding that the CJI should not perform any official duties until the enquiry is complete.
The letter sent to the judges today questions the constitution of a three-judge committee headed by Justice S A Bobde and comprising Justice N V Ramana and Justice Indira Banerjee to probe the charges of sexual harassment against the CJI.
They also too exception to the CJI terming the woman's complaint an attempt to tarnish the independence of the judiciary, without affording an opportunity of hearing to her.
The constitution of a Committee headed by Justice Bobde with no external member is in "complete violation of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013", states the letter.
The demands the 259 signatories to the letter have raised are:
a) A Special Enquiry Committee consisting of credible individuals be constituted to conduct a thorough enquiry at the earliest and create an atmosphere of transparency and confidence for the complainant to depose.
b) The Special Enquiry Committee should follow the norms of the IC and accordingly conduct its enquiry.
c) The Chief Justice of India should refrain from transacting official duties and responsibilities until the completion of the enquiry.
d) The Complainant should be allowed legal assistance from lawyer of her choice.
e) The enquiry should be completed within 90 days as stated in the law.
"It is these measures which will uphold the dignity and independence of the Judiciary and more particularly, restore the faith of all women, indeed all citizens of the country, in the Judiciary," says the letter.
The letter, meanwhile, also says that while the contents of the affidavit filed by the complainant are shocking but "equally worrisome was the response of the Chief Justice".
"We are both shocked and saddened that the Chief Justice of India as well as the Special Bench have responded as most men, in public office or in positions of authority and power do, when accused of sexual misconduct. Denial of the allegations, maligning the complainant, citing past histories, imputing ulterior motives to the complainant are familiar and regular devices deployed by accused men. Equally common is the undertaking of vindictive measures including administrative harassment and suits of defamation against complainants".
"Not only have the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court of India not set an example by their behaviour, but they appear to have moved a step ahead to delegitimize women's complaints of sexual harassment – they have declared that the allegation is itself an attempt to tarnish the independence of the Judiciary. This is both indefensible and appalling. We fail to see what this has to do with the independence of the Judiciary, which we wish to uphold as conscientious citizens, but this ought not to be interpreted to mean immunity from investigation when allegations are made".
"The Bar Council of India has rubbished the complaint as an attempt to malign the Judiciary and termed it politically motivated. In the absence of a duly conducted investigation or enquiry, we are puzzled about how the BCI, lawyers and judges are concluding with such haste that the complaint is false, baseless and motivated", added the letter.