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Indian ex-judge under pressure after sex assault allegation

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 10 Dec 2013 06:06 PM
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Vendors sell hair bands and food in the Ladies' Special train in Mumbai, where there are two trains every day except Sunday reserved for women. In India some train compartments are reserved for female passengers to make their travel easier and more secure. Picture December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
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KOLKATA, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Activists and politicians called on Tuesday for a retired Indian Supreme Court judge to resign as head of a human rights body following an allegation that he sexually harassed a law intern - a case which has sparked debate about harassment of women working in the Indian judiciary.

Former Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, 66, has denied the allegation made by a 22-year-old lawyer who was an intern with him last year.

A Supreme Court panel investigating the case said last week 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.

Ganguly, who is chairman of the Human Rights Commission in the eastern state of West Bengal, is now under increasing pressure to resign from his post, some activists even calling for his arrest.

Activists in West Bengal's capital, Kolkata, held protests on Tuesday to coincide with Human Rights Day, demanding that Ganguly step down and face a police investigation.

"We think there is discrimination going on because he is a former judge. We are marching today through Kolkata streets and then we will submit a memorandum to the President of India through West Bengal Governor," said Kamalesh Dwivedi from the charity Bharat Bachao Sangathan (Save India Organisation). "It is a joke if we just demand his removal. By now he should have been arrested."

Lawyer Stella James wrote in a blog post on Nov. 6 that a top judge assaulted her in a hotel room last December – at a time when huge protests were taking place over the gang rape and murder of a trainee 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."

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

Local politicians in West Bengal have joined the calls for the former judge - who has presided over many cases involving crimes against women - to step down.

"It would be apt if Justice Ganguly chose UN Human Rights Day to step down as West Bengal Human Rights Commission chair & cleanse his office. Violators can't be guardians," tweeted Derek O'Brien, a politician with the Trinamool Congress, the governing party in West Bengal.

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

Police last month arrested a prominent editor-in-chief of India's leading investigative magazine over allegations he sexually assaulted a female colleague twice in a hotel elevator during a conference in the resort state of Goa this month.

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.

 (Writing by Nita Bhalla)

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