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Ready to face death, if charge proven: Judge

New Delhi, Aug. 4: An allegation of sexual harassment has sucked the country’s higher judiciary into a fresh controversy after a woman judge in Gwalior accused a sitting Madhya Pradesh High Court judge of driving her to quit in “compelling, humiliating and disgraceful” circumstances.

The district judge, who headed a committee to look into cases of workplace harassment, also accused two district judges of pressuring her to submit to the demands of the high court judge.

This is the third such allegation involving the higher echelons of the judiciary since a couple of law interns accused two retired Supreme Court judges of harassment. While one of the interns has not yet filed a formal complaint, the top court has taken cognisance of the other case.

The victim in the Gwalior case, which has triggered calls for the impeachment of the accused judge and a PIL seeking an inquiry, resigned on July 15, although it is understood that her resignation letter did not mention anything about the high court judge, S.K. Gangele. Last week, however, she wrote identical letters to the President of India and the Union law minister about the alleged harassment.

While the woman judge refused to respond to queries and switched off her phone, Justice Gangele, a judge on the Gwalior bench of the high court, rejected the allegations against him. “I am willing to submit myself to any inquiry by (the) CBI, judicial, even by you journalists and, if I am found guilty, I am willing to face (the) death penalty,” he told The Telegraph from Gwalior.

He said he had also written to Madhya Pradesh Chief Justice A.M. Khanwilkar offering to face any probe.

A source close to Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha said: “We can comment or act only after a formal complaint is received.”

Late this evening, Supreme Court spokesperson Rakesh Sharma said the top court’s registry had received a formal complaint, “which is being dealt with appropriately”.

A PTI report quoted CJI Lodha as saying: “All versions will have to be taken into account. Let me go through it.”

In her letter to the President and the law minister, the woman judge said despite “excellent and outstanding” appraisals at the beginning of the year, her alleged tormentor forced her transfer to a remote location after she refused to submit to his advances.

She said the judge asked her to “perform dance on an item song”, a message he is alleged to have sent through the district registrar, and when she excused herself saying it was her daughter’s birthday, he responded by saying “he (had) missed the opportunity of viewing a sexy and beautiful figure dancing on the floor”.

The victim said she was harassed constantly, and cited the marriage ceremony of a judicial officer in February this year as one “such incident”.

In the “presence of my 16 year old daughter”, Justice Gangele, her letter alleged, told her: “…you have an excellent work performance but you are more beautiful than your work, I do not even want to blink my eyes”. He “stared at me from top to bottom and then put his hand on my back”, the letter added.

The woman judge said she was transferred in the middle of her daughter’s academic session and alleged that Justice Gangele told her she faced the transfer for not fulfilling his aspirations and for not visiting his bungalow alone even once. He also “threatened (to) spoil my career completely”, she alleged.

Left with “no option”, she said, she “resigned on July 15 in compelling, humiliating and disgraceful circumstances to save my dignity, womanhood, self-esteem and (the) career of my daughter”.

Justice Gangele said the transfer was on administrative grounds and he had no role in her new posting.

Women activists led by former additional solicitor-general Indira Jaising and activist lawyer Vrinda Grover have sought immediate suspension of Justice Gangele and his impeachment. Another advocate, Manohar Lal Sharma, moved the Supreme Court for a judicial probe.