NEW DELHI — India’s Supreme Court is demanding an investigation into an alleged “larger conspiracy” against the country’s most senior judge after he was accused of sexual harassment by a former assistant. Meanwhile, the woman who made the complaint said she is full of “fear and anxiety” about whether the court will give her a fair hearing.
The assistant, a 35-year-old woman who cannot be named under Indian law, which protects the anonymity of survivors of sexual assault, told BuzzFeed News from a safe house that Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi orchestrated a campaign of retaliation against her and her family when she refused his advances last October.
She said her life went into freefall after she was transferred multiple times before being fired, culminating in her arrest in March on charges of accepting a bribe, while her husband, an officer in the special branch of the New Delhi police, was suspended on what she said were also false charges.
She has been summoned to appear before the court on Friday, where a bench of Supreme Court judges is looking into her allegations of sexual harassment.
Gogoi, 64, has denied the charges against him, saying there were forces at work to “deactivate” the position of chief justice. The case took a bizarre turn on Wednesday when the Supreme Court — India’s highest court — summoned the heads of Indian police and intelligence, and demanded a special investigation team be set up to examine claims made in a Facebook post by a lawyer with no other connection to proceedings.
The lawyer, Utsav Bains from Punjab, a state in North India, wrote on Saturday — the same day that the woman’s allegations were first published by BuzzFeed News and in Indian media — that he had been offered a bribe to “help frame the Chief Justice of India in a sexual harassment case.”
Bains wrote that the person who contacted him claimed to be related to the woman.
The public Facebook post was widely shared, and on Monday Bains filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court elaborating on what he said happened. In this official document, Bains said that the person who contacted him was a man who gave his name as “Ajay.” Bains said that a ring of powerful “fixers” were running a scam where they accepted money in exchange for favorable judgments, and since Gogoi had cracked down on these “fixers,” he was their next target.
The affidavit says that Bains now fears for his life for “speaking the truth.”
Gogoi was not among the three judges present at today’s meeting. The court has also asked Bains to file one more affidavit tomorrow to present his claim that “three disgruntled employees of the court” are trying to frame Gogoi.
On Wednesday, the 35-year-old woman wrote to the Supreme Court stating that she was “full of fear and anxiety” about whether she would be heard fairly. In her letter, seen by BuzzFeed News, the woman pointed out problems with the court’s procedure to investigate her complaint.
In the original affidavit she had filed with the Supreme Court last week, the woman had requested the court set up a committee of retired judges who would not be influenced or intimidated by Gogoi. However, the committee that summoned her this week is made up of judges who are still serving under the chief justice. According to Indian law, a complaints committee deciding on a matter of sexual harassment must have a woman as its head, as well as a woman who is not a member of the organization where the incident has occurred — the Supreme Court’s committee, the woman pointed out in her letter, has neither.
The former assistant also said she was worried because a bench of senior judges had already dismissed her allegations as “wild and baseless” on Saturday and made verbal remarks about her character. Subsequently, a government minister also rubbished her version of events on his personal blog. Finally, the woman said one of the judges, who is part of the committee investigating her complaint, is a close friend of Gogoi and a frequent visitor to his home.
She wrote that while she was able to present the facts of her case, she is not a lawyer and will require the court to assist her in finding legal assistance. She also added that she has lost the ability to hear in her right ear and is on a daily medication.
In a separate development at another court in New Delhi on Wednesday, a hearing into whether the woman should have her bail revoked was deferred by a month.
She is accused of accepting a bribe from a man to help him get a job at the Supreme Court, but in her interview with BuzzFeed News and in her sworn affidavit, she said she has no knowledge of this man, and her position at the court was too junior to offer anyone a job.
The new hearing is now slated to take place on May 23 — the same day the result of India’s general election will be announced.
As people filed out of the courtroom, one of the woman’s lawyers gestured at the crowd of journalists to indicate why he thought the matter had been postponed: “On May 23, the Indian media will only care about one news story. Let’s see what happens to her then.”