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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.

Click to show 35 comments
at your own risk
By reading the comments you agree that they are the (often anonymous) personal views and opinions of readers, which may be biased and unreliable, and for which Legally India therefore has no liability. If you believe a comment is inappropriate, please click 'Report to LI' below the comment and we will review it as soon as practicable.
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Like +8 Object -1 Queen 02 Nov 17, 19:08  interesting
Sexual harassment and sexism are so prevalent in Indian legal circles that I am more interested in knowing the list of lawyers who have NOT indulged in such behaviour.
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Like +9 Object -1 Dared to speak 02 Nov 17, 20:05  interesting
I am traumatized. Affected my health, career, marriage, life. It spoilt my life. Its a sickening feeling lingering on. Will write in detail when I have more strength.
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Like +18 Object -2 Reason women shut up 06 Nov 17, 16:15  interesting  top rated
I have not named anyone. I just mentioned what happened to me. Not naming myself. And lo! a stranger who has no knowledge about my state or what I have gone through has already objected to my comment number 2 disputing my free expression of the hell I have gone through. This is the reason women shut up because some stranger who is not even related to the matter will always humiliate them. This is called victimisation of the victim. And you expect women to come out in the open and tell their experience?
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Like +1 Object -3 Objectification 07 Nov 17, 12:52
So men will continue to objectify...objectify the ladies or object-ify the ladie's statements. Cruel.
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Like +5 Object -2 Dabangg 02 Nov 17, 20:09
Sexual harassment is about power not sex. Anybody who feels they have does it.
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Like +10 Object -28 Guest 02 Nov 17, 21:56  controversial
this is becoming a witch hunt by ultra feminists. people are being named without proof.
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Like +0 Object -0 Comment 4 reply 03 Nov 17, 10:25
One way to have TOTAL DIRECT PROOF is to make it compulsory for all men to put special type colour or special ink on their hands and bodies which is linked to their AADHAR CARDS so when they touch a woman the proof of THEIR touch is caught .
Another additional way is women should wear cameras on their bodies especially on their chest so whosoever ogles, a camera shot can be taken immediately.
I hope you get what I am talking.
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Like +1 Object -0 Broda 03 Nov 17, 04:35
"We do not record IP addresses of contact form submissions (though we do, in the case of comments under stories)."

@kian: Are we to understand that you record the IP addresses and possibly also share them with other relevant parties. I only ask because a lot of your readers are under the impression that their comments are largely anonymous on this forum.

This has a lot of consequences, specially with respect to your reports about various law firms, and any comments which the current employees might make, against such firms.
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Like +2 Object -1 kianganz 03 Nov 17, 11:02
Hi, first of all, no, we have never ever shared an IP address with any third party, despite getting requests occasionally. Keeping the identity or any details of commenters (and sources) secret, is an important part of our official policy (see on the Contact / About page:

IP addresses are recorded in comments mainly for technical reasons, to prevent spam.

We never trace back IP addresses or try to find out where they are based, which in any case would be a very imprecise science in the majority of cases (unless you're the police).

In any case, I will take a look at whether it's possible to achieve some of those technical aims without recording IP addresses.

But people should know, that even encrypted, nothing online is ever guaranteed 100% safe, and most websites are set up in such a way that people do leave some footprints (such as IP addresses) online, nearly every time they visit a website. And if you are using a work computer to post comments, for instance, a few employers / companies have do install software that monitors internet usage from the work computer directly (which would not benefit from advantages such as SSL encryption that we now use).

Anyway, for the avoidance of doubt and in summary, I repeat: we will fight tooth and nail to protect the identities of our readers.
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Like +2 Object -0 Guest 03 Nov 17, 09:42
Agree, harassment is somewhere to do more with position of authority and power, and it can happen both ways; and yes, there are a lot of creeps hanging around, but to brush them all under the same carpet is just sad. The bigger problem is in some law firms in Mumbai, it is almost encouraged so to say, one of the partners of a law firm in Mumbai which recently shifted offices was subject of such a sexual harassment allegation and the other partners let it fly saying “deal with all this..”. Besides, what happens in offsets at this law firm is no public secret. The philandering may often be non-consensual, out of fear of authority or under a forcefully inebriated state of mind.
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Like +1 Object -0 Technical fault? 03 Nov 17, 11:27
Why is my screen showing "Voted!" when I have not liked or disliked any comment? I have not even gone near the like/object buttons.
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Like +0 Object -0 kianganz 03 Nov 17, 11:33
Yes, that might be a technical issue. Let me look into that...
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Like +0 Object -1 technician 03 Nov 17, 14:44
must be your own comment, that's why. Alternative, you must be using a public computer from which someone else posted the comment in question.
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Like +0 Object -0 kianganz 03 Nov 17, 12:09
Hi - a response to the anonymous message we received on "does that count, or are we speaking only of instances of harassment / assault in the workplace / courts?"

Yes, we would be interested in hearing about situations on law school campuses between students also.
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Like +0 Object -0 Inadvertent Error 03 Nov 17, 14:11
Dear LI,

I had wanted to make a comment but inadvertently sent it as a message to LI. Ref: sita-supankha. Would it be possible for you to reproduce the same as a comment below ?
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Like +5 Object -2 kianganz 03 Nov 17, 14:46
Sure, here is your message, redacted slightly:

Do you know the potential of abuse of such a mechanism. While it's being carried out with honorable intentions, one can easily tarnish the reputation of legal luminaries in a single revenge-fuelled tryst with keyboard. What if one decides to frame a case against [...] because he had insulted someone for shoddy work or [...] because of his harsh comments on a draft. Increasingly the movement towards protection of women against sexual harassment is showing symptoms of a sword rather than a shield. I saw several #metoo posts where reputations have been tarnished for 'sweet-talking' and 'flirting' where the concept of sexual harassment has been imposed on the alleged offender retrospectively and in hindsight.

A recent judgment of BHC on drunken consent after four glasses of LIT was held to be invalid. The judgment was cast in appalling ignorance of realities of the younger generation. Law colleges are filled with alcohol fuelled sex escapades. Is every incident going to be treated as rape then?

Please use this as a tool punish the Ravans and not the Krishnas. Please use this tool to protect the Sitas and the Supanakha.

I think it's an interesting and difficult question. However, I also think it's harder than you think to concoct from scratch a 'revenge-fuelled tryst' from a keyboard... And we do not intend to publish names until we've had a chance to do our homework, so that risk is limited...
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Like +0 Object -0 Name and Alias 04 Nov 17, 11:16
What about abuse and harassment from clients and management's response to that?
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Like +3 Object -0 Sjv 05 Nov 17, 00:13
Surprising that LI chooses to take this up when it ignored comments and refused to disclose the names re the sexual harrassment formal complaint filed against a senior partner of a top law firm earlier this year which resulted in the girl leaving the firm. All that on the basis of there being no evidence. What evidence are you going to have on the complaints made after this article? Inconsistent reporting shows what a sell out LI is.
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Like +2 Object -0 kianganz 05 Nov 17, 10:26
No, the reason we didn't publish a story on it was because we spoke to several people involved, including the complainant, who's confirmed that there are no outstanding issues, and whatever issues there were resolved very satisfactorily by the firm.

We primarily go by the wishes of the complainant. If a complainant does not want us to report on a story, we will respect that.
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Like +7 Object -1 Star Light 05 Nov 17, 12:29  interesting
Is it that senior partners become sexual harassers or sexual harassers become senior partners? Or just a coincidence in some incidences? Weird.Power spoils. Spoilt get power?
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Like +3 Object -0 Guest 05 Nov 17, 23:39
Raya Sarkar (who started the list) is a Jindal graduate and has mentioned that one ex-Jindal professor who is gay (Ashley Tellis) tried to introduce lewd Jat boys to Jindal girls through his gay circuit. Tellis has not denied the allegation and is instead making misogynistic remarks against Raya. He should be called out.
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Like +7 Object -0 Realist 06 Nov 17, 11:47  interesting
sex at work place -- is it about power or about sex? Speaking for the menfolk, I would say that most men are happy to indulge in sex with women they find sexually attractive. In this inclination, most men do not discriminate - they are happy to go for an older, same age or younger women. While the senior or a colleague of similar seniority can easily brush off sexual overtures, a junior may find pushing back harder because her career/experience at workplace might depend on her reaction. Hence the feeling of disempowerment or lets say the feeling that the senior is exercising power while making an sexual overture. However, it might not be true to paint such an overture as an exercise of power, it is about sex.
While exercise of coercive tactics in a sexual overture is pathetic/despicable (and now a criminal act), to count an overture that lacks a coercive element is also unfair. the way I see it, the law needs a genuine review. While all coercive sexual overtures/behaviour ought to be clobbered, normal human behaviour ought to be left alone
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Like +9 Object -3 Anonn 06 Nov 17, 16:15  interesting
Kian, you are opening a can of worms. I don't know what your intentions are, but I request you to ensure the following:
1. No unproven allegations are made public. We are all lawyers here and due process is an integral part of law.
2. Please be careful of relationships gone wrong, and then allegations being made. Appreciate that unlike popular conception, a lot goes on in secret.
3. Tough seniors or harsh feedback should not, without other factors be counted as harassment. It's entirely sexist to expect girls to get easier or better treatment or not be expected to work as hard as boys.
4. You would no doubt be aware of the high court order saying mere contact without intention is not sexual harassment.

No doubt many many women have had to endure all kinds of bad behavior, but IMHO the conversation on sexual harassment should be about moving forward, not seeking blood.
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Like +1 Object -16 Guest 07 Nov 17, 04:56
Completely agree. I think the whole article should be taken down as it will be used by bitter, jealous, insecure women.
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Like +5 Object -0 Name and Alias 07 Nov 17, 19:24  interesting
How should an ideal sexual harassment victim act according to you?
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Like +1 Object -0 Anony 09 Nov 17, 17:07
Whats a non ideal victim?
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Like +2 Object -0 Dear God 06 Nov 17, 18:30
Silence is Golden.
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Like +14 Object -4 Bemused but unsurprise 07 Nov 17, 08:51  interesting
I am wholly unsurprised to see the reactions in the comments section - everyone is so eager to imply vengence, insecurity, ultra-feminism (WTF??) etc. on the part of any possible complainant. Almost as if preempting complaints against themselves! People who are making these kind of statements obviously do no realise how difficult it is for victims to come out and talk about these things, even anonymously. Victims should be applauded for having the courage to relive the mental, emotional and psychological trauma of what must undoubtedly be dark chapters in their lives. As a society, we need to encourage such voices instead of muffling them by slut shaming or character assassination.
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Like +4 Object -3 Guest 07 Nov 17, 11:07
Kian please include sexual ragging in colleges. In your beloved NLSIU some notorious incidents took place in the 90s. One rogue was let off as he is the son of a prominent person (close to the Gandhi family). Others went on to become partners at top firms. Had this happened at Harvard or Oxford these guys would have been expelled and arrested.

Similarly, at NALSAR, during the early 2000s one guy was ragged so badly that he had to leave. Many other instances have occurred.

At NLUJ recent incidents have been reported in LI and MSM, and the people named. But the people who ragged in the 90s and 2000s got away as the internet was not big then. Will you agree to name and shame these people? If Weinstein can be held accountable for what he did 20 years ago why not these people?

Will Legally India agreed to break the omerta among the NLU mafia? Will the articulate lefty feminists who graduated from NLUs-- Menaka Guruswamy, Mihira Sud etc --- have the guts to name their batchmates who indulged in sexual ragging?

I can give you at least 10 names of top NLU grads from the 90s/2000s who indulged in sexual ragging.
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Like +3 Object -0 Asher 07 Nov 17, 19:12
Kian, there's been a recent development that involves several NUJS students having openly protested against an alumnus (SJA ex-President) via allegations of sexual harassment and related misconduct in Facebook. The latter has even threatened the original student who posted the matter, with legal proceedings and defamation suit etc.
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Like +3 Object -8 Guest 08 Nov 17, 19:04
Please remove this article. It is not Legally India's job to report so-called sexual harassment.
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Like +5 Object -4 Disgusted 17 Nov 17, 13:44
The comments here make me so sad and fills my heart with dread. To think that so many of the commentators are our friends, colleagues, seniors and juniors who thinks this way is just depressing.

Witch hunt by ultra feminists - umm, who are ultra feminisists? do you even understand what feminism is? Newsflash - it is not man bashing. We have much harder battles to fight against a systemically unjust society. And few people have time and energy to go around making false allegations. And you know what, 99% of the real incidents will never get out anyway. And you worry about some potential misuse? Just remeber that number of victims who will never receive justice will always be many many times more.

Dont punish the Krishnas - Why? because it is cool to steal clothes of bathing women? Because it is cool and romantic to "flirt" with your juniors? What is meat for the Krishna is poison for the people on the receiving end. Have you ever thought of that?

No unproven allegations are made public. We are all lawyers here and due process is an integral part of law - Sure, what do you want? 4 adult male witnesses? Many of these crimes happen in the dark corridors of power. That does not leave much chance to prove. And again, the proof that the system is not completely abused is evident through the minute number of allegations that are proven. Every time you think, not one innocent person should be punished, remenber that 99% of the perpetrators get away anyway.

...IMHO the conversation on sexual harassment should be about moving forward, not seeking blood - You know what, keep that rotting stinking opinion to yourself. You have never been at the receiving end of sexual harrasment, clearly. You have never had PTSD, never had flashbacks, for years, never woken up in cold sweat, never analysed a single incident in mind for thousands of times to see if you were to be blamed, never cried long enough that your eyes ran dry, never met the attacker in the eyes and realized, you are HELPLESS. So, please, keep your effing honest opinion to yourself.

Completely agree. I think the whole article should be taken down as it will be used by bitter, jealous, insecure women - You win the daily internet award for vicious idiocy. Come, I slow clap for you.
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Like +0 Object -2 Ultra-Feminist 12 Dec 17, 10:19
The least you should have done is check your facts and spare a revered God! Over-literate but ill-educated are those who think their degrees from posh universities gives them wisdom!

On the larger debate, there are always two sides to a story, and just because a woman is perceived to be the weaker "victim" is no reason to blindly believe all sob-stories that are peddled by those who want everything on their terms. Contrary to many who would want us to believe that the "victim" is always a woman who is unable to narrate her ordeal for fear of greater social ostracism, it is always the male who is left defenseless by a neo-liberal social-media-soundbyte-hu ngry faceless society.

The truth is, ostracism of either gender is unfair. The truth is known only to the two people involved and to The One above. Ever wondered, why or how is it that the women in Affaire-de-Weinstein and Affaire-de-Hoffman remained silent for decades while accepting one benefit after another from them? Did they not have a choice to say no? Some did and walked away from big career opportunities to be safe and at peace. They are to be believed and respected. Those who played along, why must we believe that they were harassed and did not do it to support their ambition knowing fully well that the path was not honest? Because in their hearts these ladies know they did not deserve what they were getting. Every woman can, must and should set the lakshman rekha, and it doesn't take much to do so -everyone's demeanour puts the world to notice about what their limits are. No man will ever dare breach the lakshman rekha where the one drawing the line is firm and clear. No one can be victimised against their desire.

And to love someone genuinely and to go the extra mile out of love is not sexual harassment if one hasn't made any sexual advances. Otherwise, every parent could be accused of sexually harassing their children because the parent exercises authority over a person of the opposite gender. That is obviously not what anyone on this forum would countenance, I am sure.

Our world would be a better place if we respected all men and women alike and no one used their gender to seek favours or concessions or unmerited success, but stood their place in the queue and worked as hard as the others who achieved success through their industry. Those of good and strong character never bow down to any power other than God. Which is what Radha and all the lovely women in Gokul did, and Krishna loved them all, not as a sexual harasser, but as someone who loved beauty in everything in the world - the mountains, rivers, trees, birds, animals, humans. If you do not know what being Krishna means, please educate yourself before purveying your utter lack of knowledge.
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Like +0 Object -0 We want Justice 23 Nov 17, 10:27
And can u imagine the harassment to an individual sexual harassment survivor when the police are paid by the management of corporates. What is the victim supposed to do?
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Like +0 Object -0 Delhi 23 Nov 17, 17:32
See how difficult it is and mentally exhausting

This article gives a detailed account
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