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Tell your sexual harassment stories: How big are the elephants in the rooms and corridors of the law?

While the cabalistic nature of the legal profession makes things difficult, let's try to break the omerta

We need to talk: About sexual harassment in the law.
We need to talk: About sexual harassment in the law.

To borrow the words of one anonymous tipster, we’ve not been living under a rock for the past weeks.

Sexual harassment has become an international issue, particularly in the entertainment industries beginning with the fall from grace of Harvey Weinstein and a stream of women and men in other industries too who have begun calling out harassment, often even eschewing anonymity.

In India, it was the release of a list of alleged (and some proven) sexual harassers in Indian academia that has begun making waves and has been written about greatly (yes, one NLSIU Bangalore professor and one NLSIU alumnus are on the list, but due to the limited nature publicly available surrounding the exact complaints, we have not been able to independently corroborate these yet).

However, the problem is likely to be bigger than that.

Let's be honest: lawyers don't have a great reputation when it comes to sexual harassment, whether it's in the courts, law firms, corporates or academia.

If anything, the close-knit and cabalistic nature of the legal profession can make it nearly as hard for sexual harassment allegations to surface and to be dealt with as in Hollywood (Bollywood - let's not even go there).

For instance, the alleged sexual harassment of interns by two (former) Supreme Court judges, which we had reported on extensively , kicked off an unprecedented level of debate in the legal profession and caused the creation of a sexual harassment committee at the Supreme Court.

It also directly resulted in the resignation of ex-SC judge and then-West Bengal human rights commission chairman AK Ganguly (after parliament was ready to begin impeachment of him, after the Supreme Court found prima facie evidence against him, and after the allegations spurred, in-part politicised, protests in Calcutta).

The sex harassment allegations by a former NUJS Kolkata student intern against ex-Justice and still-National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairman Swatanter Kumar too certainly had prima facie merit, according to our investigations. However, the hard-nosed pursuit by Kumar and his lawyers of the complainant, entangling her in legal treacle, and against media reporting the allegation, quickly seemed to put a lid on further complaints against judges (with the possible exception of the complaint by a junior colleague against Madhya Pradesh high court judge SK Gangele).

And while time has historically been a great healer for the reputations of Ganguly, Kumar and other powerful men ;; accused of harassment, no one can seriously suggest that the problem of sexual harassment in the courts, the bench and law firms doesn't exist anymore.

Lawyer Shwetasree Majumder wrote an eye-opening account in the Huffington Post last year, and Indian lawyer working in New York recounted her ordeals, and one student shared her campus experiences, but for the most part, talking about sexual harassment still remains taboo in a profession where careers of lawyers often depend greatly on the goodwill of former employers and what they tell their closely-knit social networks over backchannels.

Even in our position of reporting on the legal market daily, we have only heard a rumour of one named partner at a Big Seven law firm who was asked to leave after sex harassment allegations (in another recent Big Seven case, which commenters will no doubt remind me of, I reliably understand after extensive investigation that the complaint had been dealt with to the satisfaction of everyone involved and that we should not take it further).

All that said, we think that maybe the time is ripe to re-start a discussion on sex harassment in the law, whether in law firms, corporates, the courts or in legal academia.

Let's start to talk

The aims and ground rules of this project are the following:

  • First and foremost, we hope to get and publicise an idea of the scale of the problem in the legal profession.
  • Confidentiality and wishes of complainants come first: we will not publish anything identifiable about any complaint, unless we have your permission. We have spoken to many, many complainants of sexual harassment over the years, and I believe we have always dealt with these sensitively and fairly: we know how harrowing a formal legal or complaints process can be, and do not wish to force anyone's hand or decision along a path they're not ok with.
  • At this point, we do not intend to publish a list of sexual harassers (at least, not without doing a significant amount of homework, keeping in mind wishes of complaints, and unless we can corroborate accounts and give alleged harassers a chance to respond, if they choose to do so).

In light of the above, our ask is this: if you have faced or are aware of instances of sexual harassment in the legal profession, please share your account via the form below (or in a comment, marked not for publication). There is no time limit on submissions, as such - we intend to follow up complaints posted here at any time in future too.

To protect privacy and confidentiality online, Legally India, the below form and comments are now served over an encrypted connection. We do not record IP addresses of contact form submissions (though we do, in the case of comments under stories).

However, we would urge you to also include some way of contacting you in case we have any follow-up queries and we can establish how you would like us to proceed. If possible, please provide the following:

  • Name of the person who sexually harassed you.
  • Date(s) and description of incident(s).
  • Steps taken, if any, to resolve the complaint.
  • How would you like us to proceed? Would you be ok with us reaching out to the harasser to ask for comment? Would you be ok with us potentially publishing your complaint, without revealing your identity? If not, would you be ok with us publishing your account without any identifying information (including the identity of the harasser and/or firm or organisation).

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below, or contact me directly via encrypted WhatsApp message or call on +91 900 405 6651.

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