Close on the heels of the storm over a law intern being sexually harassed by a retired Supreme Court judge, a group of women advocates here have sparked off a fresh round of controversy by alleging sexual harassment at the hands of male colleagues within the court premises at the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court, one of the oldest and most prestigious courts of the country.
The women advocates have filed a petition in the high court alleging frequent and repeated sexual harassment by some male counterparts on the court campus. The court has admitted the petition and constituted a committee, as per Vishaka guidelines, to redress their grievances.
“Male advocates, including senior ones, often stare at lady advocates with bad intentions, and pass sarcastic and vulgar remarks against them. They also misbehave with them, even getting physical at times,” one of the lawyers Ranjana Agnihotri told reporters.
“It is felt that even in courtrooms, some male advocates who sit beside the female advocate, deliberately try to touch them,” the female advocates have stated in their petition.
Junior women lawyers said some advocates compelled them to see vulgar pictures and videos on their mobiles in situations where they were not in a position to oppose them. “The condition of junior women advocates in civil courts and other subordinate courts is even more pitiable,” the petition said. The division bench comprising justices Devi Prasad Singh and Ashok Pal Singh which heard the matter, directed its registrar to preside over a panel. It would include five members of the elder committee of the Oudh Bar Association.
The court nominated additional advocate general Bulbul Godiyal as a woman member of the committee. The bench directed the registrar to appoint an officer on special duty to receive complaints from women lawyers and women in general with regard to any such incidents taking place on the high court premises.
The committee has been constituted as an interim measure, and the court will pass its final order later. The next date of hearing is December 12.
Earlier this year, two lady advocates of the Supreme Court, Binu Tamta and Vibha Datta Makhija, filed a writ petition in the apex court seeking immediate measures to address sexual harassment complaints and ensure the safety of women within court premises. The petition followed an unseemly incident of voyeurism in the Delhi high court ladies’ toilet. A bench comprising of then chief justice of India justice Altamas Kabir and justices Ranjana Desai and AR Dave had approved guidelines for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment of women applicable to the Supreme Court complex and the lawyers’ chambers.
The Supreme Court directions came 16 years after its historic decision in Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, (1997), where it took note of the lack of the law in the area and directed all employers to adopt guidelines framed by it to address sexual harassment at the workplace. However, women lawyers could not avail of the judgment because of a technicality. Though the court was their workplace, they were not employees of the court. The apex court’s directions had rectified this anomaly and other high courts now seem to be following suit.