Through my Looking Glass : When a SC Judge Sexually Assaulted a Law Student Intern

by Stella James

The piece was first published here.

Sometimes the most difficult things to write about are also the most essential.

I feel this is especially true when many people, much more scholarly than oneself, have already said and written a lot around the issue, and yet your own experience does not seem to fit into the wide net that they’ve cast.

Gandhi once said “I have something far more powerful than arguments, namely, experience”.

And it is from these words that I derive what I consider the ‘value’ of this piece – not my experience per se, but from what I feel that my experience can tell us about much discussed issues in the country today.

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Last December was momentous for the feminist movement in the country – almost an entire population seemed to rise up spontaneously against the violence on women, and the injustices of a seemingly apathetic government.

In the strange irony of situations that our world is replete with, the protests were the backdrop of my own experience.

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.

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.

So what bothered me about this incident? As a conditioned member of the society, I had quickly “gotten over” the incident. But was that what worried me: that I had accepted what was essentially an ‘unacceptable’ situation.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the crux of my unease lay in my inability to find a frame in which to talk, or even think, about my experience.

While the incident affected me deeply, I felt little anger and almost no rancour towards the man; instead I was shocked and hurt that someone I respected so much would do something like this. My strongest reaction really, was overwhelming sadness. But this sort of response was new to me.

That I could understand his actions and forgive him for them, or that I could continue to think of him as an essentially ‘good’ person, seemed a naïve position that were completely at odds with what I had come to accept was the “right” reaction to such incidents.

This emotional response was also completely at odds with the powerful feelings of righteous anger that the protestors in Delhi displayed.

I am not trying to say that anger at the violence that women face is not a just or true response, but the polarization of women’s rights debates in India along with their intense emotionality, left me feeling that my only options were to either strongly condemn the judge or to betray my feminist principles.

Perhaps this confusion came out of an inadequate understanding of feminist literature, but if so, isn’t then my skewed perception a failing of feminism itself?

If the shared experiences of women cannot be easily understood through a feminist lens, then clearly there is a cognitive vacuum that feminism fails to fill. Feminists talk of the guilt a woman faces when sexually harassed, like it is her fault.

I felt a similar guilt, except, my guilt wasn’t at being assaulted, but at not reacting more strongly than I did.

The very perspective that was meant to help me make sense of my experiences as a woman was the one that obscured the resolution of the problem in my own mind, presumably an effect that feminism does not desire.

And if not a result of feminist theory itself, the form that it has taken in India, especially after recent incidents of sexual assault, strengthened the feeling of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” in a fight that I feel I can no longer take sides in.

All the talk during that time was of stricter punishment, of baying for the blood of “creepy” men. Five years of law school had taught me to look to the law for all solutions – even where I knew that the law was hopelessly inadequate – and my reluctance to wage a legal battle against the judge left me feeling cowardly.

On reflection though, I cannot help but wonder why I should have felt that way. As mentioned earlier, I bore, and still bear, no real ill-will towards the man, and had no desire to put his life’s work and reputation in question. On the other hand, I felt I had a responsibility to ensure that other young girls were not put in a similar situation.

But I have been unable to find a solution that allows that.

Despite the heated public debates, despite a vast army of feminist vigilantes, despite new criminal laws and sexual harassment laws, I have not found closure. The lack of such an alternative led to my facing a crippling sense of intellectual and moral helplessness.

The incident is now a while behind me, and they say time heals all wounds. But during the most difficult emotional times, what helped me most was the ‘insensitivity’ of a close friend whose light-hearted mocking allowed me to laugh at an incident (and a man) that had caused me so much pain.

Allowing myself to feel more than just anger at a man who violated me, something that I had never done before, is liberating!

So, I want to ask you to think of one thing alone – when dealing with sexual violence, can we allow ourselves to embrace feelings beyond or besides anger, and to accept the complexity of emotions that we face when dealing with any traumatic experience?

(Stella James is a Fellow at Natural Justice: Lawyers for Communities and the Environment)

The piece was first published here.

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Comments Till Now

  1. It seems like we are arguing on gender discrimination, where guys are supporting the retired judge whereas girls are supporting the so called victim… i mean its better to clarify the facts and then comment on it.

  2. Harshit Tiwari says:
  3. Theoutcast says:

    I read most of the comments.

    I really like the variety I am seeing here, but it inclines to an extreme side. Some of us are opposig this story by means of ‘dismissing it, ridiculing the author or alleging it be fake or a poor attempt to catch atttention’, whereas some of are in concurrance and mounting malicious attacks on the public proclaimed henious villainous ‘Retired’ SC Judge.

    To all who have posted their comments and read this. My arguments are put forth as this.

    1. There is no proof or signs that would be proof enough to conclude this story to be true. This authencity fo it thereby is yet to be proven.

    2. The headlines are slightly misleading. ‘Retired’ should be added. A foolish and weak argument, i must say although this one word would have helped the educated people to know the fact that ‘YOU CAN’T IMPEACH A RETIRED JUDGE.’

    3. This is less of an incident recorded but more of a personal view and the title justifies it, however it is only narrating what all the author faced and what all has transpired inside the author. ‘Gory details’, seriously ?

    4. Stop making judgements. You, all of you are not in position to make any sort of judgements on either the author or the judge, you don’t know single detail about the incident.

    5. Instead of just getting hot blooded and going on a rampage against all the authorities, have some cold logic too. You logical thinking is my argument, I need not elaborate it, you would know for yourself what I mean.

    If this has truely happened, My sympathies with the author and a suggestion to all that next time, even if anything of this sort has happened, to a reasonable dangerous degree, please report it, rather than just being mum. The nation favours a brave individual rather than sympathizing to a silent victim.

    • Harshit Tiwari says:

      All i want to say is, it is a ‘physic deja vu ‘ for me(this comment). I read the article and i was prepared to read extremist remarks by other readers and had EXACTLY the same thoughts to pen down…in equally balanced and rational manner. (y)

  4. To the skeptics who claim that there is virtue in being objective and unbiased on the face of lack facts but chose to attack the comments that derided “others” judging her, not the comments judging HER which is appallingly fashionable here; it speaks volumes on your predisposition, you’re kidding nobody.

    To others who speak of this being added to the list infamous literature criticizing “Hamara Bharat” in some convoluted conspiracy in an effort to disparage this great nation whose recent headlines have been proudly reading “Rape here, Rape there, Rape everywhere”. Go sip on your Kool-Aid and stick to ToI comments. Then after removing your tin-foil hat, maybe get hit by a bus.

    On people questioning the choice of “forum”, a valid point unless you read where it was first published. On whether it was to grab attention – Hey, your attention did get grabbed didn’t it? Let me dumb it down for you with some sweet sweet misogyny. See a great rack and then blame the same great rack, nice huh?

    To others demanding names. I’m sure this took an effort in itself and most of all as she seeks closure, emotional wrangles. Give her space and when the time is right, it’s up to her, all things considered which indeed she is pondering over.

    To that chap asking her to stop crying and whining. You don’t get to represent us “other innocent stupids” with all that charming condescension, my dear cunnilingus. Here’s to you, getting hit by a bigger bus.

    • Her allegations are highly doubtful, which not only lack facts but are divorced from logic.

      Oh! and by the way , let me suggest you some reading which will help YOU remove the tin foil hat off your head.
      Read the book “dowry: the imperial origins of cultural crime” and check out how the british engineered this system.

      Let me use an allegory for stellas situation: the british cooked up the black hole of calcutta event to justify their attack on siraj and meet their political ends. It was later found out that the black hole of calcutta incident never happened!

      whether in this case there is a political end? Well, i dont know. So long CHIEF, i wont be commenting further.

      • You’re a world class idiot. She CHOSE not to reveal the facts! For which she has been asked to appear before the committee.

        And I’m not going to bother appealing to that diseased barrel of a brain you seem to wear under that tin-foil hat as your disconnect from reality is disturbing and strikes me as someone with a tumour on their rump. Don’t worry when people wearing white coats arrive to take you away; you’ll be going to a better place.

        We’re discussing harassment here and you bring “imperial conspiracies”. Before we claim this is political, get a grip on that tardy though process. Finally your enforced your absence from sites as these will being us respite sparing us from conversations that we see usually on ToI pages by their coterie of “resident dunces”.

  5. irrespective of whether this write up is true or false……….our concern surely is that such incidents are rampant ( in graver forms too) and of late are being reported in media much more than before. Prime concern of our society must be to address the root cause of these appalling crimes and find successful means to provide solace to the genuine innocent victims whose modesty gets outraged.

  6. Just feel more like you’re not happy with the choice you’ve made not to name the person in question, and ALL the consequences that follow: seems like you’ve accepted to deal with how the incident affected you personally, but are more concerned about others who may become his prey. It’s more a human dilemma than a moral dilemma that anything else and, quite frankly, one choice is as good or as bad as another.

    And as for the veracity of your claims, which certainly are quite shocking in nature, it needs to stand the test of due process, as with anything else.

  7. It takes tremendous courage for the author to share this post here, more so because people like you would condemn her for sharing her experience. By doing so you prevent other women from raising their voices against assault. This is not about feminism or fame, this is about dignity. We hold institutions too high in India, that people often lose their value. Judges are human like you and me, and are capable of committing crimes too -for which if guilty, they must answer for.

  8. The comments on this post reflect very poorly on the mindset of the youth of our country. She is not trying to gain sympathy or fame by writing this. She is merely trying to give an insight on what happens behind closed doors, so instead of questioning the integrity of the poster, we should all be questioning the integrity of the judge who behaved this way. She was the victim here and yet the commentators are bashing her more than they are blaming the perpetrator of this heinous crime just because she had the guts to raise her voice against it. Shooting the messenger and the victim, are we?

    • Theoutcast says:

      So in your opinion, we should all accept her word and bow down ? Please be reasonable, read this just a story and attach no emotions to it. You are not in position to judge anyone, be it the judge or the author. This has no proof about it being real and instead of giving insight about what happens behind closed doors, she is narrating her emotional status to all of us. Being a reasonable human being one would sympathize with the character, just as a story rather than assaulting the author or the judge like pedjudiced superflous hot blooded ‘youth’.

  9. Hats off to Lawctopus for publishing this. Shows true journalistic integrity. Other legal news websites like Legally India and Bar & Bench will not have the balls to cover this.

    I propose that Lawctopus should next target all the corrupt VCs of law colleges.

  10. Ugh. The comments are disgusting, not just borderline misogynist. If this is your readership base, Lawctopus, my sympathies and condolences to you. Though, in this miserable country, I suppose pathetic people will be pathetic. And education clearly makes no difference.

    • How about making a logical rebuttal rather than a malicious personal attack on others. Is it wrong to doubt the veracity of her allegations?

    • anti-hypocrasy says:

      How about making a logical rebuttal rather than a malicious personal attack on others. Is it wrong to doubt the veracity of her allegations? Or is everyone supposed to kowtow and take her word for granted?

      • Theoutcast says:

        There are no sufficient details or signs that would be proof enough of being the truth. There have been several allegations towards the authorities by different individuals and only a few of them were genuine. However if this is assumed to be true then shame on the person who did this and is not worthy of any respect that’s due to him.

        However, one may not get all hot blooded and initiate ruthless attacks of the authorities. There are many people who are high posts, few of them are bad, fewer are highlighted and all get a bad name. Lose respect for the authorities, lose faith in the system and then don’t expect the system to work for you.

  11. She should have just slapped him really hard enough to shake his balls when she anyway was allowed to be walked out of the chamber and should have told him that just how difficult it is for her to impeach a JUDGE (barf), thats how difficult it will be for him to speak for why she slapped him and why he took it.
    So maybe NOTHING would happen to that judge but that slap would ring a bell twice.

    • Theoutcast says:

      Wow, you dont even know what exactly happened and you already are passing orders and making judgements ? Please dont tell me you are law student have anything to do with law or even common logic and reasoning.

  12. This woman MUST show herself. It is not about that one judge, she is down running the integrity of Indian judiciary by making such serious allegations.

    • Theoutcast says:

      Sir, I salute you. Thanks for taking this stand. Please to all others, show some respect and have a little faith on the system. Just whining about how bad people are and how curropt or rogue the system isn’t going to change it. I hope all o you understand and sorry for such a rude awakening.

  13. Yet another feminist on loose. I always wonder how these women are assaulted but never file a complaint.Yale and harvard academicians have been fostering dravidian secession “look how dalits are troubled in India” “look how India is an anti women nation” and their only way to “freedom” is western intervention. This is just another piece piling up the anti India literature.

  14. I am shocked and appalled by the other comments that I see here. Such misogyny.

    Yes, file the complaint. Then what? Taken on a SC Judge? WTF is wrong with you all?
    It’s her word against his.
    You’ve rubbished her statement here without even knowing who the judge was, imagine how much ridicule she’d face – especially in a country that says it’s the woman’s fault all the time.

    You guys actually think that someone who is “Fellow” at Natural Justice: Lawyers for Communities and the Environment etc. needs “fame” by talking about her being sexually harassed? I’m sure she can achieve better fame by writing about issues that are close to her heart, in this case, natural justice/communities etc. I laud her for coming up with this piece. It is easy to trace her name and if she has done internships with the SC – for people are the SC to know who did it. That is more important. Someone should forward this to the CJI.

  15. bhuvnesh sharma says:

    Buddha was a big tharky….u should hv kicked balls so dat he could Hv thrown dem out f his mouth…

  16. Attention Please says:

    An attention seeking attempt by Lawctopus.

  17. Pratik Patnaik says:

    Okay, let me be very balanced when I write this so that I do not sound like a chauvinist. Firstly, I do not understand the reason of this piece here, somehow I do not see any reason why you think it is the right forum, hence it slightly questions the motive.
    If indeed what you say is right, I feel not only law students but the entire country would be with you. Your claim borders to being incredible but yes, important too.

  18. Disclose his name too. If you have dared to write up then you are also supposed to disclose his name too.

  19. Now c’mon […] stop being stupid… rather than wasting your time here in crying and trying to gain sympathy from masses it would have been much better if you would have fought against him by filing a complaint. Writing a piece here is firstly, not at all reliable… who knows you might also be cooking up a story just to garner some fame. Secondly, We don’t have got enough time to waste to read your plight I have just commented here for the sake of all those other innocent stupids who could think of going through it and give their GANDHIAN view which I have always showed ,,!,,

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