The Madras High Court
has taken Suo Moto
cognizance of the allegations of sexual harassment
of a woman IPS Officer
by her senior, Special Director General of Police (DGP)
. The said matter was taken by a single bench of Justice N Anand Venkatesh who criticised the incident severely.
He went to express his resentment about how allegedly the DGP used his power and contacts to prevent the woman officer from filing a complaint against him. It was further said that if a person of the stature of an officer from the Police Service could be prevented from doing so, then what must the ordeal of other women citizens that hold no such positions. The Single Bench opined:
"The victim officer in this case is a high-ranked police officer of the State Police. It took so much of struggle, for a police officer of that rank, even to give a complaint to the DGP, Chennai. This Court shudders to think as to what would have happened if the victim was an officer belonging to a lower cadre as that of a Sub-Inspector or Constable of Police. Probably, it would have become impossible for such an officer to have even given a complaint in this case. If that is the position in which lady officers are placed, it is hard to think as to what will happen if such a sexual harassment had taken place on an ordinary lady with no background." Brief Background
The woman officer decided to file a complaint to the DGP, Chennai against the Special DGP. She described the incident which allegedly took place in the accused Special DGP’s official car when they were on their way for a bandobast duty in Ulunderpet district on February 21, 2021. Following this, the aggrieved IPS Officer escaped the scene and drove towards Chennai to file a complaint regarding the same. On her way back she received a lot of calls from the Special DGP along with other officials in order to prevent her from doing so. She chose not to answer those calls. However, following this, she was stopped at Paranur toll gate by a large contingent of police which was headed by Superintendent of Police of Chengalpet district. Reportedly, her car keys were taken by police officers ranked as Inspector and Sub-Inspector of Police. Along with this, a striking force vehicle was also specifically stationed near her car. The victim officer was pressurised in the said scenario to hold talks with the Special DGP and not proceed with filing the complaint. However, she did not budge and eventually left, subsequently filing the complaint to the DGP Chennai. Crime-Branch Crime Investigation Department (CBCID) registered an FIR against the Special DGP as well as the Superintendent of Police, Chengalpet for offences under Section 354A(2), 341, 506(1) of IPC along with Section 4, Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998. A committee is constituted to look into the said matter. Suo Moto Cognizance
The court condemned the incident in harsh words. It came as such a shock that the police officers had the valour to stop the aggrieved officer from filing a complaint after subjecting her to such harassment already. The single judge Bench expressed:
"The case reached its crescendo when the lady officer was intercepted by a posse of policemen who had the audacity to stop the car and take away the car keys. It must be borne in mind that the officers who did it are named and they are in the ranks of Sub-Inspector and Inspector of Police, respectively and the officer who was sitting inside the car was a Superintendent of Police. This was exactly the incident which caught the attention of this Court. If IPS Cadre lady officers are going to face situations such as this, this Court thought that it is high time to take cognizance of the same to ensure that these instances do not happen in the future.” Court Reprimands Police Officers for Halting Senior Police Officer
Since the court took notice of the incident of the junior Police Officers having the audacity to halt the aggrieved Senior Police Officer, it went on to reprimand these officers for the same, in the following words:
"There is a faulty gene in men which sometimes make them think that a woman is subordinate to them and that at times she can even be treated like a chattel. History, time and again shows that it is after a very long struggle, and only in the last 25 years that women have somehow managed to get to top levels at workplaces including public service. That by itself, does not place them at a secure position since they are not seen in their stature as an officer or professional but continue to be seen merely with patriarchal eyes." Special DGP bashed for Abusing his seniority The Single Bench castigated the horrendous acts of the DGP as:
"If an officer, due to the power he veils, thinks that he can get over with his power and connections, from any act, this Court is not going to be a mute spectator and this Court will step in and ensure that the rule of law is preserved Persons by virtue of the position they hold should not get the impression that they can do anything and finally escape from the situation with their power. The more the power that is vested in a person by virtue of the position that he is holding, the more stringent must be the punishment if he indulges in sexual harassment. Whosoever may be the person involved and whatever position he holds should never come in the way of the law taking its own course, more particularly when it comes to cases of sexual harassment. “ Court Doubtful of Investigation
Even though a committee has been constituted to look into the credibility of the allegations from both sides and find the truth, the court was of the opinion that it would be favourable that the investigation is conducted by the department or institution that the aggrieved officer belongs to. The court observed:
"It is true that an FIR has now been registered by the CBCID and it is brought to the notice of this Court that the case is going to be investigated by an officer not less than the rank of the Superintendent of Police. The mere registration of an FIR by itself does not take away the sordid state of affairs that is prevailing insofar as sexual harassment in workplaces are concerned. The victim was manoeuvred and manhandled by a posse of police officers to somehow prevent her from lodging the complaint. The accused person in this case is a high-ranking police official of the very same State Police Force which is stated to be investigating this case also. The propensity of the accused person to mobilise the State Police Force to thwart the course of justice is amply demonstrated by the incident that took place at Paranur toll gate."
However, the court of law went on to ensure that this was one of the exceptional cases where it had to intervene to keep a check on the investigation and that the public must keep its faith in the machineries of the state endowed with the powers. It stated so in the following words:
"This Court is required to step into monitor the investigation thereby, ensuring that the fundamental rights of the victim to a free and fair investigation is not reduced to an empty ritual. The role of the Constitutional Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution to zealously guard the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution is reinforced by a constitutional duty to act as a sentinel on the qui vive.”
Lastly, the court analysed that since the elections are due in the state, this issue could very easily be given a political colour, so, to prevent the same, the court issued some guidelines for the said matter:
- All political parties must abstain from publicising the case and giving statements to the press regarding the merits of the case. This will help ensure a fair investigation.
- The names of the accused and the aggrieved officers must not be revealed or exchanged during the pendency of the investigation, through any media platforms.
A strict action would be taken in the case of a violation of these directions and the court will have to initiate contempt proceedings for the same.