High court takes notice of a letter by advocates contending the event amounted to creating a hostile work environment. The New Delhi Bar Association, which organised it, has received a show cause notice.
THE Delhi High Court has condemned the invitation of dancers for hire by advocates from the New Delhi Bar Association (NDBA) at the Patiala House Court ostensibly to ‘celebrate’ the festival of Holi, which coincidentally fell on the same day as International Women’s Day this year, for violating the “high moral and ethical standards of the legal profession” and for “tarnishing the image of the judicial institution.”
The high court took cognisance of the event soon after more than a hundred advocates signed a letter condemning the hosting of such an event inside court premises, contending that apart from being unbecoming of lawyers, it amounts to creating a hostile work environment for women lawyers, judicial officers and staff who frequent the court. The signatories charged the organisers of committing “sexual harassment of a non-verbal nature”.
At the high court’s direction, a show cause notice was issued by the Patiala House court to the NDBA.
In a statement on Sunday, NDBA president, advocate Jagdeep Vats contested the charges contained in the letter, saying, “we respect all women and the artists”, and that the dance performers were artists and “our sisters” and should be respected, while separately adding that the association had no intention to hurt anyone’s emotions.
Meanwhile, the Principal District and Sessions Judge of the court has been asked to submit a report to the high court on the appropriate action taken. Till the time this controversy resolves, the high court has said, no permission can be given to the concerned bar association for organising any event at the Patiala House court.
The high court has further directed that whenever any district court bar association makes a request seeking permission to use the court premises for any event, it is to be ensured that such event does not result in lowering the dignity of the judicial system or legal profession.
Two videos shot at the event by an invitee were attached with the advocates’ letter, which have been seen by The Leaflet, and appear to confirm the letter’s claim that the event featured “scantily-clad women dancers, performing what can best be described as inappropriate dance numbers.”
Vats, defending the event, said, “It was a cultural program comprising Ganesh Vandana, Bhangra and Radha Krishna Dance. There are videos of these performances also. People who are raising the issue only shared the videos of film songs,” and contended, as further proof of decency, that the songs that were danced to had been approved by the Central Board of Film Certification. He also stated that no untoward incident towards any lawyer was reported at or after the event, and that no one directly complained about the event to the NDBA.
The letter had said it was “inappropriate, sexist, and unbecoming of lawyers” to host such an event under the official name of a bar association, but more “appalling” was their selection of venue: the Patiala House court, which itself is in close proximity to the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court.
Lawyers who ought to be defending the Constitution and working towards gender equality in the workplace, the letter contends, had in actuality committed an act lowering the majesty of the court by organising the event within its premises.
However, Vats has made accusations that “the whole issue has been raised with political motives to harm the dignity of lawyers and the judiciary. Some people are working on their hidden agenda and defaming the bar.”
Nevertheless, the signatories argue that in the setting in which the event was conducted, it had the effect of “bringing disrepute to the country, because it tarnishes the image of India that a bar association in the capital city would think of hosting such a vulgar event.”
Clarifying that it is not directed against the dancers themselves, the letter says that the dancers were merely doing their job and hence, “no disrespect is intended to them”.
“Hosting events that objectify women and reduce them to devices for entertainment and pleasure are directly contrary to all goals of a modern society,” the letter asserted.