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Editorial: Right spirit

An over-meticulous reading of rules can turn judicial proceedings into a punishment for the aggrieved party
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
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The Editorial Board   |   Published 08.12.21, 12:54 AM

Power hides behind virtuous guises. The recent remarks of a Supreme Court bench headed by the judge, D.Y. Chandrachud, laid bare this aspect of power with regard to an appeal in a case of sexual harassment in the workplace. The court reportedly deplored the ‘hyper-technical’ interpretation of service rules and statutory regulations governing the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It found the invalidation of proceedings through an over-meticulous reading of rules to be a rising trend that turned judicial proceedings into a punishment for the aggrieved party. This last understanding is of outstanding importance; it resonates with complainants in most cases of sexual abuse, not just those in the workplace. Power works insidiously by prolonging the complainant’s suffering by stressing the letter, not the spirit, of the law. The Supreme Court mentioned the dynamics of power in which sexual harassment in the workplace was mired, and referred to the courage it took for a subordinate to report his or her superior’s sexual misconduct. A hyper-technical interpretation of rules, from which the Supreme Court ‘implored’ courts to desist, devalued this effort and defeated justice. In the case under appeal, for example, reportedly a mistake in date — the event occurred after midnight so the next day’s date should have been given — acquired monumental relevance. The offending party was not penalized; the Supreme Court set aside the earlier high court ruling that allowed this.

The power structure in place fears disruption. Hence the almost unconscious undermining of the aims of justice whenever accepted orders in gender relations, work hierarchies or caste arrangements are threatened. The corrective to this is the awareness of rights. The Supreme Court went to the root of the matter when it said that the right against sexual harassment is part of the right to life and dignity enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. It would seem that nit-picking among details in order to find flaws with the complaint was a ruse to deny the complainant’s right. A ‘transformative legislation’ should deliver procedural and substantial justice to the aggrieved person instead of setting his or her complaint at nought. Even the delay — the case under appeal was filed in 2006 — was enough to deter persons from seeking justice. Judicial procedure can be punishing at many levels.



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