Law intern's case: How society handles a harassment case

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How society handles a harassment case
New Delhi, Dec 4: The Tehelka cyclone in the media has subsided, at least for now. It is interesting to see not all harassment cases are pursued by the media with the same excitement.

There is little debate in the media and public about the case in which a law intern was allegedly assaulted by a retired supreme court judge.

Last month, in a student-run blog Indian Law and Society, the 22-year-old woman, Stella James, who is now working for a South Africa-based legal nonprofit out of Bangalore, wrote about the ordeal she was subjected to.

The case

In last December,  Stella James was reportedly sexually harassed by a retired supreme court judge, AK Ganguly, in a hotel room in Delhi.

It is to be noted that no FIR has been filed so far, even though SN Singh Dean of Delhi University formally registered a complaint with Delhi police regarding the incident.

So what deters the police from filing an FIR?

Delhi police said the victim was 'not ready' to cooperate with them in the probe. She hasn't even approached them a complaint, they said.

It was only recently that the Supreme Court of India reminded the state police that filing an FIR is mandatory in all cases, even before conducting a preliminary probe.

However, the victim deposed before a Supreme Court panel which is conducting a probe into the incident.

The response

Media, public, judges and politicians have been asking why the intern took one year to write the blogpost and why she wasn't ready to name the judge or file a police complaint.

Many judges like justice RS Sodhi questioned her 'intentions'. "I feel it is highly scandalous to pull down an institution (judiciary) of this magnitude and nature. An intern is virtually nothing in the judicial hierarchy. To come up after months with scandalous allegations is only wild card publicity for the reason that the man (judge) is so big that even a fly can hit him. Any scandalous utterances can shake the nation's confidence in the institution", Sodhi said.

Public on social networking sites accuse her of not showing enough courage to come out against the molester.

The right wing leaders, who actively led the protests against Tarun Tejpal, are silent about this case.

However, BJP's Sushma Swaraj has been demanding the resignation of AK Ganguly from the position he is currently holding. Her demand has been refuted by Subramanya Swamy who rubbished off the victim's allegation saying, "anyone could raise an allegation. Why should AK Ganguly resign?"

The accused, judge AK Ganguly, who is currently holding a top position in West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC),has denied all the allegations against him and said he is "shocked and shattered". He went on to say the victim was like his child. He said both had dinner together and she had the freedom to leave if she was feeling uncomfortable. 

Also, he has refused to resign from his current position. 

Handling a sexual harassment case

But is it really easy for a woman to seek legal action against a man, who is holding a high position in the society, when there is no other witness other than the victim herself?

In most of the sexual harassment cases, producing evidence is tough. In this case, the incident happened almost 11 months ago. 

The victim said she doesn't believe that Indian law is equipped enough to sensitively deal with crimes against women.

"First, my case would have dragged on for years. Second, defence lawyers would make me relive every violating moment in court, something I wanted to bury at the time. Third, in cases of assaults, where there is no physical evidence, it's one's word against another's, really", she told the media.

And the society's ways of dealing with crimes against women is appalling. First, it looks at the victims with suspicion, then traumatize them, and weaken them further with humiliation.

Remember the case of actress Swetha Menon who had to withdraw the sexual harassment complaint against a Congress MP, 48-hours after she filed it.

Instead of treating it as a case of crime and conducting a fair probe, society tends to get into the feminist side of it. The case immediately becomes a 'man vs woman' matter.

Traumatised by the incident and the public response, the victim has refused to talk to media anymore.

"I was too shocked to react", she said in her blogpost.  About why it took almost one year for her to come out in public against the molester, she said it was very tough for her to cope with the fact that she had been assaulted by a man she respected and looked up to.

Talking to Wall Street Journal, she said she feels humiliated and upset. Just as she had apprehended, even the members of the inquiry panel looked at her with suspicion.

In most of the sexual harassment cases, the society tends to portray the victim as the one who is at fault. It is always a woman's mistake. This is evident in AK Ganguly's response."She was free to leave if she was not feeling comfortable", he said.

He seems to say that the victim did the mistake of not leaving and whatever happened afterwards is the result of 'her mistake'.

Lawyers' response

Unfortunately, many senior lawyers responded like old Manu, who preached the doctrine that women should stay at home and be protected by men.

They expressed wary about appointing woman interns and assistants in future. "Allegations coming after one year is like shooting an arrow in the dark, one never knows who is hit," said Former additional solicitor general K K Venugopal.

Restricting women's freedom to work is not the solution. Not at all. Sexual harassment at work place is very much a serious issue which needs to be addressed.

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