Do the right thing

The courts must urge Justice Ganguly to resign from the WBHRC.

When a law school graduate went public about her traumatic experience of sexual harassment while interning with a retired Supreme Court judge, the court took immediate and proactive action. That very day, it set up a three-judge panel to investigate her allegations and report back. While the committee found "prima facie evidence" that Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly had made an unwelcome sexual advance, the matter just hung there irresolutely. The panel admittedly has no punitive power over Justice Ganguly, given that he has retired. But its findings should have appalled the judicial community, and evoked stronger and more visible concern about the grave charges against a senior judge.

By all accounts, Justice Ganguly decided to brazen out the committee's report, both denying the allegations and pointing out that the new law on sexual harassment did not apply to a case from 2012. He continues to hold on to his position as head of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. The incident may well have blown over, given that Justice Ganguly is virtually unassailable, and under the Human Rights Act only the president can ask for his removal, after reference to the Supreme Court.

His decision to carry on as usual is also bolstered by the fact that his former colleagues, and the courts as an institution, have not made it untenable. But now that Assistant Solicitor General Indira Jaising has revealed details of the complainant's testimony, that studied silence is difficult to maintain. The details have made the incident vivid, it is no longer a matter to be hastily wound up in some closed chamber in the court. A young lawyer has allegedly been harassed by a powerful judge, and institutional loyalty should work in her favour, not his. High judicial functionaries, serving and retired, are offered the highest privileges and protections. The least the court can do now is indicate that, given the serious nature of the charges against him, and the committee's findings, Justice Ganguly does not deserve the protection afforded by that aura of esteem. It doesn't help when a former chief justice of India like Altamas Kabir publicly airs his belief that Justice Ganguly could not possibly have committed such an act. The Supreme Court's own panel has found evidence of Justice Ganguly's trespass. Its actions now will communicate how the institution intends to handle the issue of sexual harassment. If Justice Ganguly continues to refuse to step down, pressure must be brought to bear on him by the institution he served, and which he has been cocooned by, to do so. The charges against him must not be allowed to cast a shadow on the office he holds.

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