Retired Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly’s refusal to heed demands for his resignation from the post of chairperson of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) despite being accused of sexual harassment is not surprising. It is human nature to deny an allegation. But over the course of India’s tryst with democratic politics and constitutional principles, the ideal of individual and moral responsibility to institutions has taken a beating. Accused politicians and officials have often taken the defence that resignation from office tantamounts to admission of guilt and succumbing to false accusations. What they will not admit is that shorn of the power and immunity that public office accords them, the law takes its course at a much faster pace. Justice Ganguly, by all accounts, a distinguished judge who forced the pace of the 2G scam investigations and brought down former Telecom Minister A Raja, must hold himself to the same standard he set for others.
Irrespective of the conduct of accused men, post the allegations of sexual misconduct surfacing, the positive development in recent months is that more women are showing the courage to confront male offenders in powerful positions. The lawyer who interned under Justice Ganguly admitted she initially took a “cowardly” decision to keep quiet but chose to speak up after 11 months to ensure that other young girls were not placed in a similar situation. Similarly, the Tehelka journalist who took on her editor, Tarun Tejpal, rejected silence as an option. In doing so, she specifically acknowledged the feminist movement, noting that it was “forged and renewed afresh by generations of strong women”. On Tuesday, an Uttarakhand additional secretary accused of sexually assaulting a 26-year-old woman after promising her a job and a senior defence scientist accused of sexual harassment by a research scholar landed behind bars.
While these women may not be able to articulate their positions like the lawyer or the journalist, what is evident is that women across the spectrum are forging an organic link capable of overcoming societal pressures.
Unlike those women who see their fight as part of a larger struggle against gender violence and power equations, political parties are content to isolate and view the issue from the prism of political opportunity. The complacence that women will never vote as a bloc calibrates the political responses to gender issues. So we have the BJP attacking Tejpal and defending the young journalist while remaining in denial about allegations of intrusive surveillance being mounted on a young woman by the Gujarat police. Similarly, Mamata Banerjee, who in the past has viewed some rape cases in West Bengal as a political conspiracy against her government, has demanded that Justice Ganguly must go. In contrast, the Congress which attacked the BJP on the surveillance issue has been remarkably restrained on the Tehelka case. The CPM which demanded Tejpal’s resignation on day-one has been inclined to give Justice Ganguly a longer rope.
Some eminent persons in the legal profession have come out in Justice Ganguly’s support citing his distinguished track-record as a judge. The weight their names lend to the judge’s cause, perhaps unintentionally, calls into question the ex-intern’s motives. Others have offered Justice Ganguly friendly advice to relinquish charge and proceed on long-leave. Judges often take the high moral ground and recuse themselves from cases where a conflict of interest exists. Justice Ganguly is caught in a similar situation now.