In the backdrop of the charges of sexual harassment recently levelled against a Madhya Pradesh high court judge, there is a pressing need for the judiciary to set up a transparent and credible institutional mechanism to investigate complaints against members of its own fraternity. The victim of the alleged harassment was a lady additional district and sessions judge who claims that the high court judge asked her to “perform dance on an item song” at a function at his home and when she failed to comply citing her daughter’s birthday, he had her transferred to a remote location despite her requests. In her complaint to the Chief Justice of India she alleged the High Court Judge also pressured her to visit his bungalow alone, which she never did. She has since put in her papers but the issue is too grave to be put aside. This and other cases of sexual harassment in recent months including one against a former Supreme Court judge, Justice Ganguly, have disturbed the conscience of the nation.
The Indian judiciary is still predominantly an independent and clean institution and a check on both the executive and the legislature; it must protect its image so that its integrity and impartiality remain beyond question. Such incidents as the one in MP greatly compromise the fair name of this exalted institution and shake the foundations of the tremendous faith that the judiciary enjoys. It is, thus, vital that the black sheep in the legal profession be unmasked and strong action taken against them.
Significantly, the lady additional and sessions judge was recently made the chairperson of the district Visakha committee which is supposed to deal with complaints about sexual harassment of women at work. That she raised her voice against her own harassment is as it should be. It is now imperative that the whole issue be examined by a high-powered judicial panel and action be taken under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act against the high court judge if the lady’s complaint is found in order. It would be a tragedy indeed if the recently enacted Act remains only on paper.