Over the past few weeks, we have seen the Supreme Court undermine the principles of natural justice and due process in its handling of the sexual harassment allegation by a former woman employee against the Chief Justice of India. The extent of the failings range from the Chief Justice constituting an emergency special bench that included himself (to state his innocence and to urge the media to show restraint in its reportage), to establishing an in-house committee (without any external members) to investigate the allegations. The committee then chose to follow an opaque procedure instead of well established guidelines (laid out by the Supreme Court itself in the defining Vishakha case and under the POSH Act) and also decided not permit legal representation to the complainant in its proceedings. It also proceeded ex parte to dismiss the allegations as “without substance” and refused to make public its findings. In doing so, it dismissed the complainant’s right to any appeal and undermined the high bar of transparency and openness introduced into our democracy by the RTI Act.
We have failed at upholding the fundamental rights of women, ensuring safe work places, treating women as equals, ensuring women the right to a fair hearing and an impartial trial
To protest these failings, women (and some men) have come together at protest marches, on social media and other platforms to express their outrage at the process in which the allegations of sexual harassment was dealt with, and then dismissed. Not only has the Supreme Court failed to uphold the right of equal access to justice of the woman who made the complaint, but it has also failed all women (and men) by setting a very bad precedent as to how an allegation of sexual harassment at the workplace should be handled.
And it is this lack of regard - in upholding the fundamental rights of women, ensuring safe work places, treating women as equals, ensuring women the right to a fair hearing and an impartial trial – that has made me angry. It has made women angry. And, it is this very anger that we have channelled as a positive force of change – be it in mobilising scores of women (including young women lawyers that practise at the Supreme Court and who risk reprisal) to the gates of the Supreme Court on 7 May 2019 to protest the manner in which the proceedings were conducted by the in-house committee appointed to investigate the allegation and, over the past few days, in starting the campaign “May It Please Your Lordships” which has seen scores of young lawyers posting copies of the POSH Act to the Chief Justice and also in the publication of several articulate and well-reasoned opinion pieces. The protestors who arrived at the Supreme Court on 6 May 2019 were met by heavy police and water cannons. That within minutes of their assembly, women were put in vans and driven to a police station at Mandir Marg and detained for over four hours. This is an entirely heavy handed and disproportionate response to a peaceful protest. One that intends to silence voices and instil an atmosphere of fear amongst those who dare to question the handling of the allegation by the Supreme Court.
To add to the clampdown on dissenting voices - Lawyers Collective in a press release on 8 May 2019, said that the Supreme Court has issued notices against Ms. Jaisingh, Anand Grower and Lawyers Collective in a case filed against them by an organisation called lawyers voice. It appears that the petitioners have asked for criminal prosecution against Lawyers Collective. Lawyers Collective is of the opinion that the manner and timing of the issue of these notices is victimisation on account Ms Jaisingh standing up for the SC former employee who filed an allegation of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice.
At the unfolding of each these events that undermine, and destroy, the very spirit of the Vishaka guidelines and the POSH Act, I find myself getting more and more angry. With each new injustice, clamp down on our protesting voices, the women around me are also increasingly angry and more vocal in our demand for justice and change. And it is the rising of our voices that makes me ask the question - Where Are All the Angry Men?
Why is it that our men are not equally concerned that due process has been violated in the proceedings held at the Supreme Court
As Soraya Chemaly says in her book, Rage Become Her: The Power of Women’s Anger – “Anger is the demand of accountability. It is evaluation, judgement and refutation. It is reflective, visionary and participatory. It’s a speech act, a social statement, an intention, and a purpose. It’s a risk and a threat. A confirmation and a wish. It is both powerlessness and power, palliative and a provocation. In anger you will find both ferocity and comfort, vulnerability and hurt. Anger is the expression of hope.”
Apart from a group of men (comprising of very well respected and established lawyers, senior advocates and judges) all of whom have added their names to the chorus call of justice, the majority of our men – our fathers, brothers, husbands and colleagues - have chosen to stay silent on the issue. Why is it that our men are not equally concerned that due process has been violated in the proceedings held at the Supreme Court? Why are they not angry enough to participate, standing shoulder to shoulder with women at the SC protests, and to be herded into vans by the police for prolonged detention? Why are they not writing more, questioning more and speaking more?
Why is this considered to be only a woman's issue or a lawyer's issue?
If women hold up half the sky and gender equality is a principle we believe in and aspire to as a society, we need more of our men to be angry. We need to applaud and support the women and men who are. We need more of our men to take ownership of the embedded patriarchy and do their part in dismantling the systems and powers that allow it to exist and grow. We need our men to be angry when justice is denied – angry, regardless of whether it is denied to a man or a woman. We need both women and men to be angry together and to focus this anger in demanding accountability, and in being hopeful, that the strength of our collective anger, will together mobilise change.
Name changed on request by the author as the views being expressed are solely in her personal capacity.