New Delhi: Prominent activists, including Prashant Bhushan and Aruna Roy, have sought an independent inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, saying public confidence in the judiciary will be "severely eroded" if the apex court is unable to "credibly" deal with the challenge.
Last week, a junior court assistant had sent written complaints to 22 judges, alleging she was sexually harassed by Chief Justice Gogoi in October 2018.
The case was heard by a new bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton Fali Nariman, and Deepak Gupta. It was initiated suo moto after a special bench, including Gogoi himself, conducted proceedings on April 20 in the chief justice's court.
A group of activists and writers have come out with a statement seeking an independent inquiry into allegations of "sexual harassment and victimisation" against Gogoi.
"This is a moment of grave crisis for the judiciary. If the court is unable to credibly deal with this challenge, public confidence in the judiciary will be severely eroded," the statement said.
"We are extremely concerned to note the complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation made by a woman employee of the Supreme Court against the Chief Justice of India. The charges are prima facie serious enough to warrant an independent inquiry by a high-level independent committee," the joint statement said.
Other than Bhushan and Roy, social activist Medha Patkar, writer Arundhati Roy, journalist P Sainath, national president of Swaraj India Yogendra Yadav and CPI leader Annie Raja were among 33 eminent activists and writers to issue the statement.
The statement said the complaint also alleges arbitrary actions taken against the complainant, resulting in unprecedented victimisation that she and her family have been put through and continue to suffer after she rejected the alleged sexual advances.
"These include, the unjust termination of the services of the complainant, the suspension from service of her husband and two brothers-in-law, and her arrest on an apparently motivated FIR," it said.
The act of the Chief Justice of India to constitute a special bench headed by himself to hear this issue on the judicial side, rather than constituting a credible and independent inquiry committee, goes against all just and settled principles of law, the statement.
"In the hearing, one-sided allegations were made by the Chief Justice and senior-most law officers of the government. This is unbecoming of a judicial proceeding, especially one where the complainant in a sexual harassment case is absent and is permitted to be openly vilified in court," it said.
"These actions augur a dark day in the history of the Supreme Court and have, undoubtedly, cast a shadow on the credibility of the Chief Justice and the judiciary," the statement said.
"We, therefore, call upon all the judges of the Supreme Court to ensure that an independent and credible inquiry committee comprising senior retired judges and eminent members of civil society, headed by a woman, is immediately set up to inquire into this complaint," it said.
The statement said it is imperative that the complainant be granted protection, so that her safety and security is ensured.
"In the meantime, since many of the witnesses named by the complainant are officials of the Supreme Court registry, it is incumbent on the Chief Justice to refrain from exercising any administrative powers during the course of the inquiry, since it would not be reasonable to expect officials under his direct administrative control to depose fearlessly," the statement said.