COMMENT SOCIETY GOGOI
By PREM CHANDRAN
HIGHLY RESPECTED Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, is into some tense times. It is worth pondering why such a scenario has developed. This admittedly is a serious issue for the reason that the fair name of the judiciary has been sought to be sullied. A worry is that this could lead to a crisis of confidence in the highest levels of India’s justice dispensation system. The judiciary’s great strength was the respect it enjoyed. In one clean sweep, a complaint from a female judicial staff, relating to alleged sexual acts, has hit the judiciary’s image in a serious manner.
In all fairness, making a pass at a colleague from the opposite sex even in a work environment was no big a crime until some time ago. In such situations, one might have laughed his or her way out of a funny situation; or, if things seemed serious enough, the choices left for an employee were: to report the matter to her superior, or refer the matter to an internal complaints panel, or quietly seek a transfer from one department to another. This was how it used to be. There was less of fuss, an understanding of human frailties, and more of a demonstration of one’s wisdom. As a former US official tersely and pithily put it, years ago, in a different context, “Stuff happens.”
Even in normal course, interactions with male and female staff at times posed tricky situations. Camaraderie can at times drift into more serious situations. One has to tread carefully. In most situations, men and women know how to do the tight-rope walking. Yet, in some situations, one could simply be courting trouble. It is both advisable and appreciable that one keeps personal interests away from work.
In India, a lot of hypocrisy is involved in matters of morals, and more so in matters specific to sex. There are all the controls in place in society, and there are no controls, too, depending on situations. Asram Bapu was preaching morals to his disciples until the day he was exposed by a complaint from a girl devotee that he raped her. The spiritualist is now cooling his heels in jail. His son too has been in the dock over a similar case. His ashrams evidently lost some of its previous aura after these incidents. If Asram Bapu had not been exposed, he would still have been preaching morals to his disciples. Two top media celebrities are now facing odds over their alleged sexual indulgences. Until they got into trouble, they were seen as the paragons of all virtue, taking on the evils in the society with rare energy and passion. When some women spilled the beans, the scenario changed.
In the case of a village girl, it is unlikely that the complaint could be a motivated act. But, when society sweeties turn around and make allegations via “me too” or other platforms, it is natural on the part of many to suspect motives. They are, after all, an intelligent kind. In reality, what they stated might be truth. Chances are also that the plot developed in a different manner. It is for courts to arrive at fair conclusions. But, now, court itself is sadly brought under a cloud. Individuals alone cannot be blamed if and as far as the lapses are of a minor nature. This is the sign of our times. We need to learn to live with such situations in future and look at life around us with a new prism.
It is worth pondering as to what has brought about this kind of vehemence to the Indian scenario of late. Note the fact that other nations are living in more peace, though the scenario of women making complaints against men is not a phenomenon exclusive to India. IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn ended up in a similar situation in a five-star hotel some years ago, which sent tongues wagging. The Bill Clinton case was already before us. The case of a Supreme Court judge and an intern in New Delhi snowballed into a major issue and then died down. Tongues wagged about Tony Blair for years during his term in office; and later too. But, the British society has demonstrated a wisdom to avoid raking such things up in public, or to catch him on the wrong foot, and accorded dignity to the office he held. Our society out here wants to be smarter.
Let’s face this. Sexual urge is common. It is natural for men to make overtures to those of the opposite sex; and vice versa too. Yet, making an overture is one thing and an aggression is quite another. An aggression would amount to a rape or an attempted rape. A rape is a violation of a woman’s basic dignity and the honour she attaches to her body. Also, a rape is one thing; and sex between consenting adults is different. The first could be a crime and the second a normal process as long as other legal aspects are not involved. What we see in India today is that, once a couple is caught in a compromising situation, police show a natural inclination to make it a case of rape and charge-sheet the man accordingly. The more complex the case, the more the scope to make a few bucks out of it.
Who framed new laws to mess up with the peaceful situation here? Who, other than some stalwarts in politics, women politicians included, in the backdrop of the sensational case of rape of a para-medic in a luxury bus in Delhi? After this, by way of a social intervention, a law was brought before parliament and passed, which made even a look at a woman a punishable offence. A fundamentalist nation like Saudi Arabia is one proposition and a democracy like India which values individual freedom is quite another. It is a debatable point as to how much understanding of social life a Sonia Gandhi who lived in a glass house in Delhi or even a Sushma Swaraj as leader of the then Opposition in Parliament has, though both are elected members of the Lok Sabha from different constituencies. Intelligence is inborn, wisdom is acquired. That involves one mixing actively with the world around him or her. Life in Italy or the UK is one thing; life in India is an altogether different proposition. The realities here are different from the realities in the West.
Ensuring safety of women in public life is a common cause, and it must be assured in a normal way. Going overboard is not the normal way. Making India a Saudi Arabia is neither advisable nor appreciable.
To err is human. But to make a mountain out of a molehill is inadvisable. What should have been heard and sorted out in camera was sought to be laundered in public and made the talk of the town. Who benefits from this, other than perhaps some criminal elements out to ruin systems or play with it for ulterior motives? It’s easy to blacken the image of our institutions; but it is difficult to build strengths to them as is required over time. All this is not to pre-judge who’s right or who’s wrong vis-a-vis the Ranjan Gogoi issue. It obviously has several angles to it. The special bench will look into all these. The fair name of the judiciary will have to be sustained through the thick and the thin. The nation’s destiny is deeply intertwined with it.
Last but not the least, it’s worth pondering how a nation like China in our neighbourhood would have handled such a situation. It would have shown enough of wisdom and would not have allowed taking things to such a pass. Reason why China does not waste its time on silly matters and instead demonstrates a single-minded devotion to its serious works at hand. India has its army of crooks who make a profession out of washing dirty linen in public or fishing in troubled waters. Someone’s misery is our hour of joy, even as the nation is, or its institutions are, faced with odds. firstname.lastname@example.org
— The writer is a former editor and an activist of India Against Corruption.
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