The Advocate-General of the High Court of Kerala has given a clean chit to a government pleader who was accused of haranguing a victim of sexual harassment. The Advocate-General had investigated the matter in response to a complaint from the victim, a 40-year-old woman. The AG’s response does not address the woman’s accusation that she was confronted in the Court complex by the man who allegedly harassed her.
Supreme Court lawyer and writer Aparna Bhat said there was a need to improve security inside the court complex for victims of sexual harassment. “Entry to the courts is public and anyone can access the buildings. When a victim of sexual harassment is summoned to a court, it should be the court’s responsibility to ensure that the defendants do not use the chance to further harass the victim,” she said. Ms. Bhat said a court in Delhi that tried cases of child abuse had designated areas for victims and strict security to ensure that they were not confronted by those who had harassed them in the first place. “All other court premises should be secured in such a way that people who are summoned by the court are protected,” she said.
The woman from Paravur had filed a police case after she was allegedly harassed by a colleague in the lift of her office building in May 2013. When the anticipatory bail plea of the accused came up before the High Court, the woman and the accused were summoned to the chambers of the Judge then hearing the case. The woman, in her complaint to the AG, said she was cornered by the accused, his lawyer, the government pleader, and the staff of her own lawyer when she was waiting to meet the judge outside his chambers. The victim said the group, including the accused, had surrounded her and accused her of cooking up a case for business gain. The woman, who had been undergoing treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after she was assaulted in her office building, was further traumatised by the confrontation in the High Court building.
“The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines to ensure safety of women who come forward to complain about sexual harassment,” said advocate Sandhya Raju. “The court must try to ensure that the victim is not made to face the accused. The objective of the guideline is to make sure the victim does not feel intimidated and can speak freely,” she said.
The AG, in his response to the complaint, said the pleader had said his actions “were only to assist the Court as a responsible Law Officer of the State” and that he had “not done anything to cause hardship or inconvenience” to the victim. The AG said he had accepted the explanation and closed the complaint.
Keywords: Kerala sexual harassment cases