Indian ex-judge resigns from rights body after sex assault claim

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 7 January 2014 08:53 GMT

Protesters carry candles as they shout slogans on Dec. 16, 2013, during a protest to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi. A 23-year-old woman was gang-raped on a moving bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012, beaten and then pushed out onto the street along with her male companion. She died two weeks later amid an outpouring of anger across India. Four men were sentenced to death while a teenager was sentenced to juvenile custody. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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Former Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly denies the charges, but has resigned as chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission following weeks of pressure from activists and politicians for him to step down

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By Sujoy Dhar

KOLKATA, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A retired Supreme Court judge in India has resigned from his post as head of a human rights body after claims that he sexually harassed an intern in a case that has shaken the country's legal fraternity and exposed the issue of gender harassment within the judiciary, a lawmaker confirmed on Tuesday.

Former Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, 66, denies the charges, but submitted his resignation as chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission following weeks of pressure from activists and politicians for him to step down.

There has been no official confirmation, but a senior lawmaker from the ruling Trinamool Congress Party said Ganguly had met West Bengal's governor, M.K. Narayanan, late on Monday who had accepted his resignation.

"He should have resigned much earlier. This is a delayed decision," the lawmaker said, adding that he did not wish to be named.

A Supreme Court panel investigating the case last month said it had found evidence of "unwelcome behaviour" and "conduct of a sexual nature", but failed to suggest any action as Ganguly is no longer a practising judge.


Lawyer Stella James, 22, wrote in a blog post on Nov. 6 that a top judge had assaulted her in a hotel room nearly a year earlier in December 2012 - just when huge protests were taking place over the gang rape and murder of a physiotherapist in the Indian capital.

"In Delhi at that time, interning during the winter vacations of my final year in university, I dodged police barricades and fatigue to go to the assistance of a highly reputed, recently retired Supreme Court judge whom I was working under during my penultimate semester," James wrote in a blog for the Journal of Indian Law and Society.

"For my supposed diligence, I was rewarded with sexual assault (not physically injurious, but nevertheless violating) from a man old enough to be my grandfather. I won't go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that long after I'd left the room, the memory remained, in fact, still remains, with me."

James, who did not name the judge, said she had not come forward earlier because she did not want to tarnish his reputation, but she now felt "a responsibility to ensure that other young girls were not put in a similar situation."

Her allegations triggered a furore - with lawyers, activists and politicians calling for the country's top court to investigate the incident.

Ganguly has told reporters that he was "shocked and shattered" by the allegations, adding that he treated all interns like his children.

The case is one of a small but growing number in which victims of alleged sexual harassment have come forward to complain about powerful male superiors.

Police are probing the editor-in-chief of India's leading investigative magazine over claims he sexually assaulted a female colleague twice in a hotel elevator during a conference in the resort state of Goa in November last year.

Activists say sexual harassment and abuse by powerful and privileged men is widespread in India, but few women have been willing to talk about it.

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