Statement from Women’s Groups Across India on 16 December 2013
Exactly one year ago, the gang-rape of a young woman triggered immense outrage across the board, putting freedom from rape and sexual assault at the forefront of public debate. From law reform to overhaul of institutions of justice delivery, from media sensitization to public awareness, women’s safety is now squarely on the public agenda, thanks to mass protests. Ironically, during those very protests, on 24 December 2012, a young lawyer revealed that a retired judge of the highest court in land had sexually harassed her while she was working with him as an intern, and that she was unable to speak about it only ten months later.
According to her statement, Justice (Retd) A.K. Ganguly currently the Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission said, “’You know that I’m attracted to you, don’t you? You must be thinking, what, this old man is getting drunk and saying such things. But I really like you, I love you’. When I tried to move away, he kissed my arm and repeated that he loved me.” This is not merely inappropriate behavior by a senior over junior staff or interns; it is not merely over-stepping of boundaries; it is not merely friendly overtures: such acts constitute a clear case of abuse of power and sexual harassment at the workplace.
Today, we fight to ensure that sexual harassment of women at the workplace is regarded not only as illegal, but also unacceptable and intolerable. We also struggle to ensure that public institutions maintain their credibility and only individuals of the highest integrity and an implacable record of upholding human rights are at their helm. Unfortunately, Justice (Retired) A.K. Ganguly is not such a person, with ample prima facie evidence of his having sexually harassed a young woman with impunity.
Following the young woman lawyer’s shocking revelations sexual harassment by Justice Ganguly, a Committee of three judges of the Supreme Court on 28 November put forth its conclusion that the statement of the intern both written and oral, “prima facie discloses an act of unwelcome behavior (unwelcome verbal/ non verbal conduct of sexual nature) by Mr. Justice ( Retd.) A.K. Ganguly with her in the room in hotel Le Meridien on 24.12.2012 approximately between 8.00 P.M. and 10.30 P.M.”
Justice K. Ganguly has refused to step down from his position as the Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, on the grounds that he has not been found guilty by an appropriate court. However, it must be noted that he occupies an office of trust, which demands that the character of the individual must be above reproach, until his name is honorably cleared of all allegations. Otherwise, the credibility of the institution is itself at stake, and the message communicated is: women’s rights do not matter.
Today, we demand that the government assure the women of India and particularly young women entering the workforce, that they will step into a workplace free of sexual harassment, where no form of sexual violence will be condoned, irrespective of the stature or rank of the perpetrator. The State must vindicate the constitutional promise to women of a life with dignity, by breaching the impunity for sexual wrongs. Protection of human rights must include the upholding of women’s rights and the bodily integrity and dignity of women, in keeping with Constitutional guarantees as well as international commitments under the CEDAW.
We therefore demand:
(i) The Prime Minister must request the Hon’ble President of India to make a reference to the Supreme Court of India to initiate proceedings under Section 23 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, for the removal of Justice (Retd) AK Ganguly as Chair of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission.
(ii) Those heading public institutions must adhere to the highest standards of personal conduct and integrity in order to uphold the credibility and effectiveness of these institutions.