[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he former Supreme Court staffer, whose complaint about sexual harassment by the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, is being investigated by a three-judge committee, has today decided not to participate in the proceedings after the committee repeatedly disallowed her request for a lawyer or support person to be present with her, rejected her request for a video recording of the hearing and a copy of her statement recorded so far, refused to inform her about the procedure it was following and orally instructed her not to disclose the contents of the proceedings to her lawyer.
Expressing “serious concerns and reservations” about the procedure being followed, the complainant in a note released to the press said that she was told by the committee that if she refused to participate in the proceedings, they would proceed ex parte.
“I gave this letter to the committee just as the hearing commenced this morning. I told the committee that it would not be possible for me to participate any further if I was not allowed the presence of my lawyer/support person. But this request was still refused by the committee and I was told that if I didn’t participate they would proceed ex parte,” the complainant said in the press note.
“I was compelled to walk out of the committee proceedings today because the committee seemed not to appreciate the fact that this was not an ordinary complaint but was a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI and therefore it was required to adopt procedure that would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstances that I am placed. I had hoped that the approach of the committee towards me would be sensitive and not one that would cause me further fear, anxiety and trauma,” she said.
Informal proceeding with no lawyer or support
“In the Committee hearing that took place on 26th April 2019, the Judges … told me that this was neither an in-house committee proceeding nor a proceeding under the Vishaka Guidelines and that it was an informal proceeding. I was asked to narrate my account which I did to the best of my ability even though I felt quite intimidated and nervous in the presence of three Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court and without having a lawyer or support person with me”.
“I had also pointed out to the committee that I had lost hearing in one ear completely due to stress and I was undergoing daily treatment for the same. As a result of this, I was sometimes unable to hear what was being dictated by Hon’ble Justice Bobde to the court official as a record of my statements before the committee.
“Further the committee declined my request for video recording of the committee proceedings. I was also clearly told that no lawyer/support person could be present with me during the committee hearing. I was orally instructed that I should not disclose the proceedings of the committee to the media and was to not even share the proceedings with my lawyer Advocate Vrinda Grover. I was asked to appear before the Committee on 29th April for the next hearing.”
“Today, 30th April 2019, was the third day I went to the in-house committee of 3 Supreme Court Judges (Hon’ble Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice Indira Banjeree and Justice Indu Malhotra). But due to serious concerns and reservations, I am no longer participating in these in-house committee proceedings,” the complainant said, in her press note.
The three-judge committee that was initially set up comprised Justices Bobde, Ramana and Banerjee. Justice Ramana recused himself after the complainant pointed out in a letter to the committee that he was a close friend of CJI Gogoi and had in a public forum criticised the manner in which her complaint had been filed. Justice Indu Malhotra has since replaced Justice Ramana in the committee.
I participated in the proceedings in good faith
The complainant said she had joined and participated in the committee proceedings in good faith on 26th and 29th April 2019 with the hope that the committee would proceed in a manner that was fair to and sensitive to her circumstances.
“Despite the fact that the committee was an in-house committee of sitting judges junior to the CJI and not an external committee as I had requested, I joined the proceedings with a lot of hope considering that the committee comprised of such eminent Hon’ble judges. I felt that this committee will hear my sufferings and finally justice will be done to me and my family,” she said.
Explaining the circumstances around why she had written to the judges of the Supreme Court on April 19, 2019 seeking a special committee of senior retired judges to inquire into her sexual harassment complaint, she said she did not believe that any in-house committee constituted under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, would be able to fairly deal with her complaint, given that it involved the Chief Justice of India.
“However to my dismay I found that on the next day, Saturday 20th April (which was a court holiday), the Hon’ble Chief Justice constituted a special bench comprising of himself and two other judges and in that hearing held in Court No. 1 of the Hon’ble Supreme Court various allegations were made against me in my absence, by the Hon’ble Chief Justice, another judge and senior most law officers of the government”.
She said even though the Secretary-General of the Supreme Court had sent her a notice requiring her to appear before a committee of sitting Supreme Court judges, it was only through media reports that she had learnt who the judges would be.
While she would have preferred an external committee, she decided to participate in the inhouse proceedings and requested the committee to follow the requirements of the Vishaka guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act. She also asked to be allowed to have the assistance of a lawyer or support person of her choice and a video recording of the proceedings. All of these requests had been turned down.
Atmosphere frightening, intimidating
She said her repeated request that the proceedings be treated as a formal enquiry and the committee follow the letter and spirit of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act and that she be allowed the assistance of her lawyer, Vrinda Grover, and that she be permitted to produce oral and documentary evidence with the right to cross-examination were all turned down. Even her request to summon CDR and WhatsApp call and chat records was also ignored in the first hearing and was taken up only today. (Read the complainant’s letters containing the requests here, here and here)
Instead, she said, she was repeatedly asked why she had filed her complaint so late. “I went for the hearing on the 30th April with a written letter where I once again explained why I made my complaint of sexual harassment after several months”.
“I found the atmosphere of the committee very frightening and I was very nervous because of being confronted and questioned by three Supreme Court Judges and without even the presence of my lawyer/support person. Also because of my impaired hearing I was at times unable to follow what was being dictated as my statement. I was also not shown what was being recorded and no copy of my statement recorded on 26th and 29th April has been given to me till date,” the complainant said.
“I was told that there were certain questions on facts that they wanted me to answer. I declined to participate any further in the absence of my lawyer/support person.
“The committee also asked me if I wanted to present any witnesses. I informed them that almost all the witnesses are working in the Supreme Court of India and there is no likelihood of them being able to depose fearlessly before the committee. I also informed the committee today that due to my present health condition and personal circumstances, this kind of stress can be detrimental and harmful to me”.
She said she had no information if the committee had even sought the response of CJI Gogoi to her complaint “I have been left guessing and anxious on all these matters,” she said.
She said she had also brought to the notice of the committee that after the first hearing on April 26 and again on April 29, 2019, she had noticed that she was being followed by two men on a motorcycle whose partial number had been able to note.
“In these circumstances where:
I have not been allowed to have the presence of my lawyer/support person despite my impaired hearing, nervousness and fear
There is no video or audio recording of the Committee proceedings
I have not been supplied even a copy of my statement as recorded on 26th and 29th April 2019
I was not informed about the procedure this committee is following.
I felt I was not likely to get justice from this committee and so I am no longer participating in the 3 Judge Committee proceedings,” the complainant said in her statement to the press.