Sexual harassment will not pass, must file complaint: Indira Jaising
Assertive, articulate and amiable at the same time, Indira Jaising, the first woman to be appointed additional solicitor general of India has not lost her fire even at 77. The graceful and glamourous Jaising spoke to Indulge on the sidelines of a panel discussion on 'Redefining success as a woman of today' organised by the Ladies Study Group led by its current President Madhulika Kanoria. Indira Jaising was one of the panellists. Excerpts from the chat.
You and your peers have been instrumental in goading the authorities to set up a creche in the Supreme Court. Do you think it will pave the path for other thoughtful gestures to help women law practitioners?
I think it’s a great initiative, and we have brought this to a successful conclusion. It will definitely have a demonstration effect, and crèches must be built subsequently in all the district and high courts to make it easy for the women, who to come at work. But it’s not about the women alone, it’s also about the children and their welfare. Our workplaces need to be child friendly for their overall growth and development.
You fought a lot about opacity of the senior lawyer tag. What is the status now? How far have you succeeded in your crusade against it?
I have worked in that direction and much of the opacity is now gone. The court now has subjective criteria, for example, the amount of pro bono work you have done, which will be given points, the number of publications you must write, your research etc. You must prove yourself and you should have a well rounded personality to be designated as a senior advocate.
When it comes to women’s right to exercise their choice, the Supreme Court often takes a staggering approach, the latest example being the case of Hadiya. Don’t you think it has dilly dallied a bit?
The court did not need to take so long to call Hadiya to hear her out. She is the only one who matters. So, the court should have ordered to produce her immediately. She was in the custody of her father. It’s unheard of that an adult woman is incarcerated by her father and not allowed to be part of the ordinary world. So, the court took its own time but finally did allow her. But was it really necessary to put her through this kind of torture? I think it wasn’t.
Though more and more women are thronging the corridors of court for justice, there are actually very few women judges. In fact, there is only one woman judge in the apex court.
Yes, women should have equal representation, there should be 50 per cent women judges in the court. It has never happened yet in Indian legal history but the world over, if you travel across places, such as Nigeria and other countries, you will find that there are many women judges and even chief justices in their Supreme Courts. Over here, we have none so far, but thankfully we have had some women chief justices in our high courts. But the journey from the high court to the Supreme Court also seems to be tough.
And as you said, many women judges, too, had to face sexual harassment.
I have been very disturbed about the allegations of sexual harassments by women judges against male judges. That is absolutely unacceptable and definitely sexual harassment by judges against women judges is more than unacceptable. I think they commit a breach of their oath of office by doing that.
You yourself had been a victim of sexual harassment. How did it impact you and how did you deal with it?
I need to tell one thing that despite my own empowerment this incident came to me as a big shock. It’s because I think anyone, who is sexually abused or harassed, is destabilised. It’s kind of shock. I dealt with it with all the courage, but it makes you feel that you are being stalked, and that’s the worst possible feeling you can have... you know it makes you feel that if I look over my shoulder I will find him there... Once somebody has done that to you, the fear is that it would be repeated and you tend to hide, you tend to get into corners, you tend to avoid and not to be natural. So, it is horrible and it had that kind of impact on me, too.
But of course, I was lucky in the sense that I did stop him in the corridor of Supreme Court and confront him and said, “You are going to stand here and account to me why did you sexually harass me”. And he pretended that nothing had happened and you really don’t expect a man to admit that he sexually harassed a woman. I have to say that even two or three days after that I was afraid.
How should youngsters fight back sexual harassment at workplace? What’s your advice for them?
First and foremost thing I must say is that always lodge complaints in writing if you are sexually harassed. Many times women don’t do that because they think it will pass, but it doesn’t pass, trust me. Put it in writing and send it to your boss, never mind what happens to the complaint, we’ll see about it later, but tomorrow you will not be believed if you say you were sexually harassed.