One ultra-powerful man and his coterie of equally powerful men and women. One complainant with hearing disability and no lawyer by her side.
One man who makes laws, one woman whom law failed.
One man who was accused of sexual harassment, one woman who was labeled a liar just because she complained.
That man is Chief Justice of India, and that woman is still saying MeToo, MiLord.
A bit about the case which rocked Supreme Court
On April 19, the aforementioned woman sent an affidavit to 22 SC judges claiming that the CJI had sexually harassed her in October 2018, and later used intimidation to silence her.
After the news outlets broke the story, CJI constituted a 'special bench'- including two judges and brazenly himself - without listing a cause, matter, or a petition.
When he faced flak, he appointed the senior-most judge, Justice SA Bobde, to conduct an in-house inquiry on April 23.
By Monday, the panel concluded its chief is "innocent".
Be you may ever so high, you aren't above law
Right off the bat, let me list down the obvious issues she faced:
a) There is a huge power imbalance, to begin with.
b) She was already pre-judged when the CJI made supercilious statements that "judiciary is under threat".
c) Most of her witnesses were working in the SC, hence they wouldn't have been able to testify fearlessly.
d) She wasn't allowed a lawyer, despite her hearing disability.
And, then there are more issues
e) The in-house panel comprised Justice Bobde, Justice Indira Banerjee, and Justice Indu Malhotra. Justice NV Ramana was also part of it, but he recused himself (we will come to that later). Hence, there was NO external member.
f) It also contradicts the principle that "the finding body cannot be junior to the person being enquired into". In this case, that person being first among equals, the CJI.
Fair and objective
Justice Ramana recused himself only when complainant pointed out
Now coming to Justice Ramana, he is a close family friend of CJI. His presence wouldn't have assured of a fair hearing. Further, the complainant highlighted that Justice Ramana dismissed her story by saying "judges were under attack".
The pertinent question is: Why did he agree to be a part of this committee, when there was a clear conflict of interest?
He couldn't bring objectivity on table either, which the woman certainly deserved. Innocent until proven guilty, anyone?
Irony alert: No body ever thought of this extraordinary situation
Ironically, Advocate S. Devika explains that when the Supreme Court adopted the in-house procedure in December 1999 to take remedial action against judges, three sets of procedures were laid out: for judges of the high court, for chief justices of high courts, and for Supreme Court judges.
Writing for The Wire, Devika states that no procedure was established when the CJI is the respondent.
And, here are we staring into darkness!
Supreme Court is temple, but its chief is not God
A victim is told to follow laws. She did all of that, despite being scared. We ask you, Honorable judges, where did it lead her to?
Supreme Court is the temple of justice, but its chief is not God. He can't be revered, and defended endlessly. Let the law take its own course.
In an extraordinary situation like this, the onus is now on the retired judges to show us the path.