I am particularly pleased that today we are witnessing two simultaneous debates. The first being on the appointment of judges to the high courts or the Supreme Court and the other on the sexual harassment of women interns, lawyers and even judges by members of the highest courts of the country, composed predominantly of males. The first debate is triggered by serious allegations of corruption in the judicial system and the unrepresentative character of its appointment structure. And the second one is induced by the male chauvinism and misogyny that prevails in large sections of the judiciary. I have long believed that there is a sexualisation of corruption in the judiciary sphere, one that exists almost freely at an underground level, unmentionable and unspeakable.
So what can be posited as common in the two debates? The impunity that judges enjoy clearly foments the pernicious structure of hierarchy within, the culture of sycophancy in the legal profession and the near-dynasty that exists in the matter of judges’ appointment. One look at some judges’ predecessors will convince you that they are not only from the same class or social background, but also related with ties of blood. At one time, the Supreme Court had three sitting judges related to each other, with not a single demand to figure out how they all managed to get there at the same time. The legal profession has also become hereditary; children of lawyers becoming lawyers and the children of these lawyers’ children also bound to become lawyers. It is almost as if law was a business. But unfortunately, it is a justice-dispensing mechanism. This creates countless conflicts of interest between members of the judiciary. In India, we definitely lack a conflict of interest theory when it comes to public life; we are all brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts! I have seen lawyers who, when becoming judges, bequeathed their cases to their sons who were practising in the same courts!
So where does this take us on the question of sexual harassment by judges? How should we deal with it? Are we really seeing an epidemic of sexual harassment by judges on women interns, judges and lawyers? No, I don’t believe so. Just as all judges are not corrupt, all judges are not sexual predators. But the fact is that, given the hierarchical nature of the system, like the one we see in the armed forces, the system oppresses those at the bottom: women, who are subordinated on the basis of their gender, and other overlapping hierarchies that affect those who have no connections within the system and are only appointed on merit. The structure of the judiciary functions on the basis of favours and those who are willing to play the game are upwardly mobile. But those who are bright will remain at the bottom of the list or will be pushed out, just like the additional district judge of Gwalior.
In one reported case from Rajasthan, once again, the woman in question was a district judge and the alleged predator an administrative judge. He called her repeatedly in the guise of reporting for monitoring to his residence and when she went there, strongly against her wishes, she found him standing in his underpants. The case went all the way up to the high court. The outcome was predictable: she lost her job on the ground that her services were not found satisfactory. She was a Dalit woman.
So what ails the judiciary? It is not as if there is an epidemic of sexual harassment, but sweeping the few cases that happen under the carpet is the norm. The conspiracy of silence is the norm. We, lawyers and judges, live in a world of hypocrisy, in a world of denial. We continue to call each other ‘my learned friend’ and judges ‘My Lord’.
As the district judge who has been forced to resign says: “I appreciate and understand that in all organisations, while the select majority is good, hardworking, rule-bound and diligent, just a few people with a criminal-bent mind will hold the entire organisation to ransom. Rather than challenge these dodgy layers of society, which in any way should not be a part of it, the silent majority shuts its eyes at their misdemeanours, as they are prisoners of their own comfort preferring the status quo.”
She concludes: “As for me, I have indeed often kept these things only for myself, but I have also at other times chosen to stand up and let my voice be heard. Long years ago, I demanded an inquiry against judges of a particular high court who were allegedly ‘misbehaving’ with women lawyers and women judges from a subordinate court. These women judges were apparently being considered for a promotion. The inquiry was held, but the report was never made public. The outcome was predictable again; no action was taken against the judge in question. Then, I filed a petition in the Supreme Court for a copy of the report. I was not entitled to a copy.”
We can now ask ourselves the question: has anything changed since then? Yes, something has. The women are speaking up now. But the system does need to make their voices heard and to support them in the process if we want the sexual predators to be successfully weeded out.
This is the reason why the Commission for Judicial Appointments must announce in advance the names of the proposed appointees and make its proceedings open to the public.
We are in a crisis situation where some men are unable to accept women as human beings at the work place and continue to treat them as sex objects. It is indeed a shame that although the judiciary preaches transparency and accountability in all corners of the country, there exists no redressing mechanism within the judicial system itself.
In her words: “What kind of system are we all leading our welfare democracy towards? If this is how a mother, a sister and a wife are to be treated in India, then what constitutional goals are we actually defending?”
The Chief Justice of India has promised an inquiry, but stated no work should be assigned to her in the process. We say: her resignation must not be accepted and she must be restored to her rightful position.
(Former additional solicitor-general of India, Indira Jaising heads the women’s rights initiative at Lawyers Collective)
@DC: You have made some valid points there! I appreciate.
1. I don't intend to dismiss the incident as trivial. However, I find it odd that the commentary (by a reputed legal professional, as you mention) adopts a tone of surprise. For anyone who knows, in some depth, the inner workings of judiciary, this should not incite surprise but anger. For, corruption and harassment are a norm, not exceptions. A common man is never encouraged to question judiciary; he is ignored and can be charged with contempt. So when someone gets a chance to question, it is expected that she does so more critically, objectively and not emotionally.
2. If the complaint was against a common chap, he would already be in custody. And I have asked why this guy is still out. That, to me, is a much more serious question to look into. For, it is precisely such discrimination that translates into harassment of thousands of helpless people. It openly shows the utter lack of fairness. She has not at all asked this question!
3. If she doesn't have the courage to criticise other serious deficiencies, she would have done good to limit this article to her blog, for it is, regardless of how much one likes to stretch, an organisational problem. If she has, however, taken the example of the incident to push for reforms in grievance redressal, I would have had no problems with it.
4. The take on gender ratio is quite skewed and ridiculous, coming from such a writer. If she believes in merit, it's quite hypocritical to even ask such a question. In citing the difference in numbers, she is simply asking for privileged treatment on the basis of sex. Also, she ignores the numbers, in proportion, of those who pursue this course and career options. If she is concerned about nepotism and unfair practice in recruitment, let her push, again, for reforms.
5. I have nowhere suggested that every complaint is fake or baseless. At the same time, I find it queer and idiotic when the stories come with the suggestion that "women never lie; women are faultless; all men are walking perverts and rapists". Most people who follow media do not know anything about how exactly crime reporting works. When a case turns out to be fake, media hardly report it, so one believes that all cases are genuine. This is utterly biased. Feminists take it to the extreme; it borders on fundamentalism. So, yes, if one adopts such a tone, I will argue strongly.
6. A crime should be condemned for what it is. That's the bottomline. The more serious question is not if a case is fake or genuine, but why there is such a leeway for one group to simply walk in and file a fake complaint and get away with it. There are quite a few such cases, even among those which have made it to mainstream. Yet, nothing is being done to correct it. I have a simple question for you - in a marriage, a woman can threaten that she will walk out along with children, if the man is fired at workplace. A man can not pose the same. If he tries to persuade her otherwise, she can simply file a domestic violence case and drag him and his ailing parents, siblings into prison. Such an option very much exists, and that's the reality. These cases far outnumber the genuine ones. So, empathy is rather misplaced. Men have no recourse, even when the case turns out to be fake. This explains the outrage of Misogynist, for example.
7. Among the quite a few fake cases that ran their course in media, the following stands out. That it happened outside India is secondary; importantly it reflects how devastating bias can be. Empathy is fine at its place, but it can be destructive when it comes with lack of objectivity.
8. Last point. Frankly, let's move on from the cliched references to mother-sister (Isn't it queer that people who can't hold a decent argument without slipping into references to mother, sister, come back and pretend to teach how to respect women!?). Every man who argues knows what it is when his mother or sister is subject to harassment. So, let's not get there to adopt a holier-than-thou stand. Let us, by all means, remember our brothers, fathers and friends too. They also go through hell. Are men expected to grin and bear it all? Sorry. They need not. If we believe in an equal, fair world, let's begin with being so.
18 D Murthi
"...A meaningful debate to to get justice irrespective of
caste, creed or gender can only happen once the
independence is restored..."
"...A meaningful debate to to get justice irrespective of
caste, creed or gender can only happen once the
independence is restored..."
Do you mean, that there is still hope that the likes of Modi and his ilk may go to jail?
20 D DC
It is actually YOU that needs the hard touch of a hunk against your wish from the rear can cure you of the habit of making ridiculous posts.
Others in the forum may have suggested that you need a psychologist or psychiatrist or you should undergo a sex change.
But I still maintain that only the hard touch of a hunk against your wish from the rear can cure you of the habit of making ridiculous posts.
The author expressed her views in the context of a complaint of sexual harrassment charges levelled against a judge. She has highlighted the structure of the judiciary, the rampant conflicts of interests and the gender ratios only to explain why allegations of sexual harrassment by certain judges are not addressed and why there are repeat offenders. It is not an article on general criticism of the judiciary- unlike Katju she is not writing about the corruption of individual judges, for example.
You carry a bias believing that sexual harrassment charges are all baseless and anybody who is either believing in or supporting the complainant is a feminist. You do not want anyone to publicize the issue. That is why you wanted JaiSingh to limit herself to a personal blog.(On the contrary, hers is a bold decision to write in the national newspaper without fearing any likely contempt of the court allegations). You also want to diffuse the focus from sexual harrassment. That's why you wanted to see the author writing about other deficiencies of the judiciary. (But that was not her topic.) I agree with your suggestion that the judiciary should have a mechanism to address harrassment, as is the case with many large corporations. Her article actually helps outsiders understand the reforms that are necessary here.
As I reasoned with you in the past, sexual harrassment is a serious issue . (That does not mean there are no ther serious issues , but donot underplay the seriousness of one issue citing other serious issues). There could be charlatans, but that cannot make every allegation of harrassment baseless. Even in the New York subway trains there are messages from the transporation authority warning that inappropriate physical contact is an offense. ( In crowded buses in big Indian cities women face this kind of harrassment quite often. Ask your mother or sister if you do not believe.) In India of course there are many who rationalize rape and believe even rape charges are baseless. You surely would be sympathetic to such mindset.
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