Ensure Gender Justice at the Supreme Court of India – Statement by Former Law Clerks
In response to a complaint regarding sexual harassment and subsequent victimisation against the Chief Justice of India, and the Indian Supreme Court’s response to the complaint, 25 former law clerks at the Court have given out the following statement:
On 23 April 2019, the Times of India published an article titled, ‘After allegation against CJI, many SC judges ask for male staff at houses’. The article went on to say: ‘Some judges expressed apprehension about employing female law clerks, who like their male counterparts work mostly in residential offices till late hours preparing summary of case files listed for hearing in the next few days before the judge concerned.’ We, former law clerks cum research assistants at the Hon’ble Supreme Court, are deeply disappointed to learn of such an unjust response by some Hon’ble judges of the Supreme Court. The response to a sexual harassment complaint cannot be to ridicule and victimise the complainant, to dismiss the complaint as ‘wild’, ‘scurrilous’ and politically motivated, or to deny access to employment to all women. Such a response trivialises the serious issue of sexual harassment, and mocks substantive equality for women.
Our experience of clerking at the Hon’ble Supreme Court has been deeply enriching – we felt extremely honoured to have had the opportunity to contribute to the work of the Court in enforcing fundamental rights and doing complete justice. We are very grateful for that experience, and believe that the same should be open to everyone – women and all other socially and economically marginalised groups. We are very happy to note that women represent 60% of the staff at the Supreme Court. In similar vein, the Supreme Court must ensure that at least 50% of law clerks cum research assistants are women.
The transformative Constitution of India is strongly committed to gender justice. Moreover, in a number of its decisions, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has affirmed the fundamental rights of working women under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. As the highest court of the land empowered to enforce fundamental rights, the Hon’ble Supreme Court must set an example for the rest of India in terms of its commitment to gender justice. It must do so not only through its judgments, but also in its employment practices. A substantive vision for gender justice requires that women have access to the position of law clerks and all other posts and offices under the Supreme Court. It also ‘includes protection from sexual harassment and right to work with dignity, which is a universally recognised basic human right’ (Vishakha v State of Rajasthan).
The Supreme Court’s response to the sexual harassment complaint against the Chief Justice of India has been in violation of basic principles of natural justice, the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act) Act (POSH Act), and the Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013. It also reveals the shortcomings of the existing regulations, as compared with the requirements of Vishakhaand the POSH Act. For instance, the regulations do not contemplate a procedure for complaints against the Chief Justice of India, do not cover women governed by the Supreme Court service regulations, and cover only those acts that take place in the precincts of the Supreme Court, and not acts that take place in the judges’ residences. The regulations must be amended and interpreted purposively to ensure gender justice.
We therefore call upon the Hon’ble Supreme Court to guarantee gender justice in its employment practices, and particularly to:
1. Maintain a high proportion of women staff employed at the Supreme Court, and to treat all staff with respect.
2. Ensure that at least 50% of law clerks cum research assistants are women.
3. Guarantee protection from sexual harassment and subsequent victimisation to all women at the Supreme Court.
4. Respond to the current and all future complaints regarding sexual harassment as per the letter and spirit of Vishakha and the POSH Act.
5. Purposively interpret the the Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013 in accordance with Vishakha and the POSH Act with regard to existing complaints, and to amend the Regulations for the benefit of all future complainants.
List of Current Signatories: 25; 7 have chosen to keep their names private
- Aditi Pradhan (2015-2016)
- Ansha Varma (2014-15)
- Apurva Srishti (2014-2015)
- Arpita Sarkar (2012-2014)
- Chandan Maheshwari (2018-19)
- Devina (2016-18)
- Maulshree Pathak (2015-2016)
- Niranjana Menon (2014-2015)
- Nishant Gokhale (2011-12)
- Nupur Raut (2017-18)
- Pawani (2017-2018)
- Rishika Sahgal (2015)
- Rupam Sharma
- Sanjeev Kumar Sriram
- S.N. Samith (Feb 2016 – October 2016)
- Shivi Sanyam (2015-2016)
- Sughosh subramanyam (2016-18)
- Vaibhav Tiwari (2016)