Justice Gangele sexual harassment case highlights how institutions are inherently biased against complainants

The story of the Assistant District Judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has taken on a similar turn of events.

The Ladies Finger July 31, 2018 21:43:27 IST
Justice Gangele sexual harassment case highlights how institutions are inherently biased against complainants

By Aashika Ravi

“I may quit and come after you. Be warned.”

“You've not responded to my hints about send me a picture so I guess I should make the trip in person.”

“I’ve been thinking about you. Always on my mind.”

These messages may sound straight out of a stalker’s mouth in a psychological thriller. In reality, they were texts sent from former head of Reuters America Dayan Candappa to a female subordinate in 2015. She rejected his advances and tried her best to toe the line between being firm but friendly. After 10 months of harassment, she finally filed a complaint in 2016, but not before her performance ratings dropped. Candappa was fired after a swift investigation but a few months later, he was appointed Chief Content Officer at Newsweek Media.

The psychotic nature of Candappa’s harassment is not new and neither is the fact that he found a plum job in a new organisation despite the terms on which he was let go.

Closer home, the story of the Assistant District Judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has taken on a similar turn of events. Four years ago, she filed a complaint before the Chief Justice of India and several other high court judges about the sexual harassment she had been subjected to by Justice SK Gangele, administrative judge at the Gwalior bench. LiveLaw reported the various incidents of harassment which involved demands that she perform on an item song for his 25th anniversary celebrations, that she meet him at his bungalow where he lived alone and claims that he subjected her to “an intense form of surveillance” after which she was transferred from Gwalior to a remote Naxal area, Sidhi, and ultimately resigned from her post, to “protect her dignity”.

The case went to a Judicial Inquiry Committee (JIC) and a report submitted to the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha found that the case of sexual harassment was “not proved”, but her transfer from Gwalior to Sidhi was “not lawful.” The head of the transfer committee that had transferred her, Justice Rajendra Menon, was found to have overlooked important details in his hurry to transfer her to Timbuktu.

Justice Gangele sexual harassment case highlights how institutions are inherently biased against complainants

Representational image. News18

As it stands, the woman judge would like her job back and has asked the Supreme Court to see her departure not as a resignation but a ‘forceful dismissal.’

Last week, Indira Jaising, human rights lawyer and Supreme Court advocate, traced the findings in The Leaflet. The context? This month, the woman judge remains out of a job. However, the accused is retiring with full honours. When the allegations first came out, 58 Rajya Sabha MPs signed a motion to initiate impeachment proceedings against him, but a three-member panel set up to investigate the charges gave him a clean chit.

And the judge Rajendran Menon, who was found by his peers to have unlawfully transferred the complainant, gets the benefits of the old boys’ network by being put forward as the next Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. “Having failed in his administrative duty as a judge, is he still fit to be appointed as the chief justice of Delhi High Court?” asks Jaising.

The committee reported that the transfer was based on a recommendation by the then district judge of Gwalior Kamal Singh Thakur and had not been verified by the transfer committee. It said, “The transfer committee committed an irregularity on solely relying on the recommendation of district judge Kamal Singh Thakur and without making any verification or enquiring on the same, was not justified in transferring the complainant in mid-session.”

Menon also overlooked the fact that the complainant had a daughter studying in Class XII who was going to appear for the boards, which made her eligible for postponement of the transfer by eight months.

This led the JIC to report that “there has been a total lack of human face in the transfer of the complainant.”

Now, the same Justice Rajendra Menon has been proposed to be appointed as the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court ahead of one Justice Aniruddha Bose. Jaising refreshes our memory on why this is a bad decision with this article.

Despite the Vishakha Guidelines and The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, it seems that “due procedure” is still skewed in the favour of those in power.

When discussing the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) case in The Caravan, Manasi Karthik makes a great point about Internal Complaints Committees when she says, “Time after time, the men exposed for their predatory behaviour are found to be some of the most highly accomplished and influential people in their fields. Creating committees with an institutional bias that favours these very individuals defeats the purpose of the exercise.”

When a professor at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Sadanand Menon, was named in the LoSHA list (a list of sexual harassers in academia) in 2017 and later by a student of the institute in a formal complaint in January this year, the college refused to take action on three grounds — “that the incident did not take place on the university campus (Menon had allegedly harassed her at SPACES, a cultural venue in Chennai); that the complainant was not a student at the time of the incident; and that the limitation period for filing a complaint had lapsed.” According to Karthik, organisations lean towards the status quo and the status quo seems to be about protecting men.

Here is a story that runs parallel to the Newsweek story. A professor from Ashoka University was accused of sexual harassment. A second, unnamed university banned him from its premises as he was found guilty of “manipulative consent” and “abuse of patriarchal power in the professional sphere centred around the workplace” by the university’s Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH). Soon after, the professor’s current employer Ashoka themselves accepted the complaint and looked into the same and reportedly found him not guilty of sexual harassment. Reportedly because the university has at last check not informed the complainant about anything much from their proceedings.

Their less than satisfactory proceedings and findings that the professor was not guilty resulted in a group of Ashoka students and alumni writing an open letter on a website, where they detailed all the procedures flouted by the university. Some of these include denying the complainant access to her deposition even after she repeatedly asked for it, as well as making her visit the campus, which led to her meeting the abuser even though Section 13 (e) of Ashoka’s CASH policy states that at no point should the defendant and the complainant be put in a situation where they might face each other. And once the process was done, as she told Firstpost, "I have no access to the quantum of punishment to be meted out to the perpetrator, whom the disciplinary committee found guilty of misconduct."

For all their bluster and nonsense on not tolerating sexual harassment, these institutions construct a culture of complicity that knowingly discourages others from coming forward with their stories, whether due to red tape-ism and loopholes, or a covert hostility that the complainants are subjected to by the management.

The hundreds of committees and panels and benches that “review” sexual harassment complaints just embody an extension of the culture that already exists in the workplace. This is beautifully reflected in the goings-on in the Kerala film industry where the male actors and superstars are working hard to reinstate the power and status of Dileep, a man accused of masterminding the abduction and sexual assault of a fellow actor.

In The Caravan, Nikita Saxena detailed the experiences of female employees who were harassed by former director of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) RK Pachauri. The article speaks as much to the toxic culture that existed in the organisation, as it does about the systematic way in which Pachauri tried to get under employees’ skins. One of the employees talks about how she tried to approach various other senior employees in the company, only to realise that “all lanes lead to one person and one room.” To say people at TERI knew of what was going on is an understatement; they even joked about it. One senior female director said, “Uska khada nahi hona waise bhi, kya farak padta hai (How does it matter? He cannot get it up anyway. He’s harmless).”

According to this LiveLaw article, “Large scale surveys done across India by Saheli (1998), SARDI (1999), Sanhita (2000), Sakshi (2001), Lawyers Collective-ILO (2002), Yugantar (2003), CFTI (2010), OXFAM (2012), Sharma (2014), INBA (2016) and media reporting till date i.e. Alavi and Gole confirms that majority of women employees do not report sexual harassment prominent reasons being lack of confidence in the organisation including redress mechanism, low awareness about law and procedures, threat of professional victimisation apart from fear of ridicule, stigma, embarrassment.” Surprise.

When women are constantly persuaded to speak up against sexual harassment in the workplace, the onus is largely shifted onto them in a way that basically says, “Speak now or forever hold your peace” as if somehow, all parts of the system are working to put their anxieties at rest, if only they would come out with them. In reality, for women like the Assistant District Judge who is currently pleading for reinstatement of service, mandated ICCs and guidelines are going to achieve nothing if they continue to set them up for disappointment every step of the way.

The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women's magazine delivering fresh and witty perspectives on politics, culture, health, sex, work and everything in between.

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