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The former Supreme Court employee who accused Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment said on Tuesday, April 30, that she will not be participating in any further hearings of the in-house committee that has been looking into her complaint.

In a statement to the media, the former junior assistant, alleged that the committee denied her request that it hold its inquiry under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act and follow the Vishakha guidelines – which the Supreme Court had itself formulated and which were later incorporated into law.

The woman said her decision to withdraw came after the panel refused to let her have a lawyer or a support person with her during the hearing. She said she suffered from impaired hearing and could not even follow what was dictated by Justice Bobde to the court official as a record of her statements before the committee.

She said the committee declined her request to record the proceedings on video or audio and she was also not supplied with copies of her statements made during the panel hearings of April 26 and April 29. Finally, she said no information was given to her about the procedure followed by Justice Bobde.

The woman said there is a need to adopt a “procedure that would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstances” that she is placed in. “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.

The former junior court assistant has already appeared before the inquiry committee comprising Justice SA Bobde, Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Indu Malhotra twice, on April 26 and April 29.

When she appeared before the panel for the third time on Tuesday, she walked out due to “to serious concerns and reservations”. She said the panel’s questions caused her more “fear and trauma” and was unsure if the process would help end the “stress and harassment” she has faced.

She said she was “compelled to walk out” of the three-member committee’s proceedings on Tuesday because the judges who are part of it did not seem to appreciate the fact that “this was not an ordinary complaint but was a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI” and refused to allow her to be accompanied by a lawyer or support person during her deposition.

She said she put all her concerns down in writing in the form of a letter which she handed over to the three judges on Tuesday morning and was warned that if she withdrew from the proceedings, the inquiry panel would reach its findings without her participation.

“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. 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 described how she was aggressively frisked when she first appeared before the inquiry committee on April 26 by policewomen, leaving her feeling humiliated and degraded. The former Supreme Court employee also claimed that she was followed by two men on a motorbike when she left the hearing.

The former employee said that she has noted down the partial number of the motor bike that followed her on the first day. Though she informed the committee of this, the judges did not take take it into consideration.

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When she appeared before the panel on Monday, she said she was again followed, this time by four men on two motorbikes. On this occasion, she also complained to the SHO of Tughlaq Road police station, who initially agreed to provide security to her. She claimed however, that after the SHO spoke to inspector Pankaj Singh posted at the Supreme Court guesthouse at 34 Prithviraj Road where the panel has been holding its meetings, he refused to provide security, saying, “aap to protected hi hai” (you are already protected).

The 35-year-old woman, who mentioned in her letter to the committee that she is from a Scheduled Caste community and has had to struggle especially hard to accomplish what she had professionally, asked the external committee to look into the complaint given the fact that the allegations are against the “highest seat of justice”.

She added she had agreed to appear before the current in-house committee hoping that the judges would conduct a fair inquiry. Over the course of three hearings, however, she felt that the judges looked at her complaint more with suspicion than with sensitivity.

The committee denied her request that it hold its inquiry under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act and follow the Vishakha guidelines – which the Supreme Court had itself formulated and which were later incorporated into law.

The complainant has also said that the presence of a support person/lawyer was not allowed during the hearings, which made her feel stressed and intimidated. Finally, the woman said that her request to make audio and video recordings of the proceedings was not accepted, apart from not being given a copy of what was being taken on record by the committee.

She said she felt “overawed and scared” when she appeared before the committee. She said the three judges repeatedly told her how, even though she had a law degree, she did not know about the appeals procedure against her dismissal. In her letter, the woman said she only received her LLB degree in August 2018 and is inexperienced and not trained in law. The woman said she was also intimidated by the judges’ insistence to know why she took “so long” to file the complaint.

The former staffer says that when she responded to questions posed by the committee, the judges said, “aise nahin hota” (it cannot be like that).

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She claimed that during the first hearing on April 26, Justice Bobde told her that it was an “informal proceeding”.

Justice Bobde told the news agency PTI that the proceedings were not a “formal judicial proceeding”. He also said the there was no time-frame to complete the inquiry and the future course of action will depend on “what comes out of the inquiry” which will be “confidential”.

In a letter,  she said she was unsure what the nature of the inquiry committee was. In the first hearing, she was told that it was an “informal proceeding” and later that it was an “in-house procedure”. She was also unsure what the outcome of her participation would be and if she would get justice.

The woman asked that the proceedings be treated as a formal inquiry. She wanted the committee to follow the “letter and spirit of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act”.

The committee repeatedly asked her why she made the complaint of sexual harassment “so late”, the woman said. She said:

“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 woman says she has lost hearing in her right ear, which she attributes to the “stress and harassment” that she and her family has faced.

She said call detail records (CDR) and WhatsApp call and chat information of two numbers, allegedly used by CJI Ranjan Gogoi to contact her, would provide supporting evidence to her allegations. This request was apparently rejected by the committee during the first hearing on April 26, but was accepted on Tuesday.

She has termed as baseless allegations by advocate Utsav Bains that she was part of a “conspiracy”. The Supreme Court has asked Justice (retired) AK Patnaik to look into the allegations of a “conspiracy” by “fixers” against the CJI.

Previously, the woman had raised concerns about the panel. She said the Supreme Court’s special hearing on April 20, chaired by the CJI, “damaged her character” and Supreme Court judges and senior law officials declared her complaint as false without listening to her.

After she objected to Justice Ramana’s inclusion in the committee, the judge recused himself and was replaced by Justice Indu Malhotra. The former SC employee had requested a special inquiry committee comprising six former Supreme Court Justices instead of a “in-house” committee.

“I felt I was not likely to get justice from this committee and so I am no longer participating in the three judge committee proceedings,” she said.

Here is the full text of her media note:

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. I joined and participated in the Committee proceedings in good faith on 26th and 29th April 2019 with the hope that this committee would proceed in a manner that is fair to me and sensitive to my 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.

On 19th April 2019 I had made a detailed complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation against the Chief Justice of India by means of an affidavit dated 18th April 2019 and I had written to all the Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court to constitute a special enquiry  committee of senior retired Judges of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to enquire into my complaint of sexual harassment and the consequent victimisation. I did not think that any in house body or the committee constituted under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, would be able to fairly deal with my complaint, given the fact that the person against whom I had made the complaint was the Chief Justice of India. My complaint is in the public domain. (Letter and Affidavit annexed as Annexure A). 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.

Thereafter on 23rd April 2019 at around 8.30 pm I received a Notice from the Secretary General of the Supreme Court stating that I was required to appear on 26th April at the assigned time and place before a Committee of Hon’ble Judges. Soon after receiving the Notice I learnt from media reports the names of the Judges who would constitute this Committee.

Despite the fact that this was an in-house committee and not an external committee, I decided to participate in the proceedings. I however requested the committee to inform me about the procedure to be followed by the committee, to follow the requirements of the Vishakha guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Against Women at the Workplace Act, to allow me to have the assistance of a lawyer/support person of my choice and for video recording of the proceedings. I also pointed out that Hon’ble Justice Ramana being a close friend of the CJI (almost like a family member), it may not be appropriate for him to participate in the proceedings. (Copy of this letter dated 24.04.2019 is annexed Annexure B.) Thereafter Justice Ramana recused and he was replaced by Justice Indu Malhotra in the committee, which information also I gathered from media reports.

In the Committee hearing that took place on 26th April 2019, the Judges in the committee told me that this was neither an in-house committee proceeding, nor a proceeding under the Vishakha 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.

At the first hearing itself I had also placed an application before the Committee to summon the CDR and whatsapp call and chat records of two relevant mobile numbers. However the  Committee did not accept my application on the first hearing. The same application was finally taken by the Committee on 30th April 2019, when feeling helpless and distressed I could no longer continue to participate in the Committee hearings. (Copy of this application dated 26th April 2019 is annexed as Annexure C).

After I left the first Committee hearing on the first day, I saw that the car I travelling by was being followed by two men on a motorcycle whose partial number I was able to note. Before the next hearing I wrote a detailed letter to the Hon’ble Committee members, narrating all this and again requesting that the proceedings of the committee be treated as a formal inquiry and the Committee follow the letter and spirit of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, and that I be permitted to be accompanied and assisted by Ms V. Grover, that I be allowed to produce evidence both oral and documentary with a right to cross examination and that my applications be taken on record. (Copy of this letter dated 27th April 2019 is annexed as Annexure D).

In the hearing that followed on the 29th April, I was again not allowed to have a lawyer/support person present with me. I was repeatedly asked by the committee as to why I had made this complaint of sexual harassment so late. 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.

In such circumstances, 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 and where I again pointed out why it was exceedingly traumatic and difficult for me to participate in the proceedings without even the presence of my lawyer/support person. I also stated that I have not been given a copy of my statement recorded on the earlier two dates of hearing.

I again pointed out that when I left the Committee hearing on 29th April at around 7.30pm I was followed by four men on two motorcycles and I was scared for my safety.

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 exparte. 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. (A copy of the letter dated 30.04.2019 is annexed as Annexure E)

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 require 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.

I have not been informed if the committee has sought any response from the CJI to my complaint and I have been left guessing and anxious on all these matters.

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 being 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.

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