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Delhi HC Women Lawyers Forum calls out ‘misogyny of the bar’ in reaction to 1994 assault case

Former Delhi HC Bar Association president Rajiv Khosla was convicted on 29 Oct for assaulting lawyer Sujata Kohli in 1994. A section of male lawyers resolved to abstain from work Tuesday in protest.

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New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Women Lawyers Forum has called out the “misogyny of the bar” after a section of male lawyers protested against the conviction of former Delhi High Court Bar Association President Rajiv Khosla in a 1994 assault case involving a woman lawyer.

A trial court had convicted Khosla on 29 October, holding him guilty of assaulting a woman lawyer, Sujata Kohli, in 1994. Kohli, who had then been a lawyer at Tis Hazari Courts, retired last year as a District & Sessions Judge.

In response to Khosla’s conviction, members of the mostly-male Coordination Committee of the All District Court Bar Associations of Delhi resolved Monday that lawyers in all district courts in Delhi will abstain from work the following day. The resolution passed by the Committee termed the judgment “biased … and against all the cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence”.

Now, in a letter written to the president of the Delhi High Court Bar Association Thursday, the Women Lawyers Forum has expressed their “grave disappointment” in the Coordination Committee’s conduct and stated that “this indicates they are siding up with a male lawyer against a woman lawyer”.

Calling on the Delhi High Court Bar Association to condemn the actions of the Coordination Committee, the letter added, “The silence of other Bar Associations is significant and leads to the irresistible and sad conclusion that the bar does not treat gender issues, hooliganism, intimidation and contempt of courts as worthy principles to stand up for and call out, unless it is to suppress the voices of marginalized lawyers. It also indicates their approval and support for bullying of women lawyers and attempts to overreach the rule of law and independence of the Judiciary.”

The Committee’s action had earlier also been criticised by the Bar Council of India, which asserted that this was “not the legal recourse available as per law”, and that “justice, judiciary, law, lawyers, will all be severely damaged by such an act”.

“Even in times of distress, it is reminded that abstinence/ strike or boycott will not solve any problem,” the Bar Council of India said in a letter dated 8 November, and asked the State Bar Council of Delhi to ensure that the Coordination Committee of All District Court Bar Associations of Delhi immediately withdraws the call for abstinence from work. The resolution was, however, not withdrawn.

Also read: Alarming gender disparity in judiciary: 4 women judges out of 33 in SC, 66 out of 627 in HCs

‘Rot in the system’

In its letter, the Delhi High Court Women Lawyers Forum highlighted the “misogyny of the bar” and said, “Many if not most women lawyers have suffered in varying degrees the oppressive patriarchy and sexual harassment within the legal profession. Sujata Kohli had the courage to initiate legal process and fight her cause over 27 years. We applaud her.”

It then asserted that the Bar Associations’ move to call for a strike against the judgment “makes good the case itself which is about harassment, bullying and intimidation”, and that “this should be an embarrassment to every lawyer”.

“The conduct of the Bar Associations have highlighted the appalling conditions in which women lawyers work in courts. It seems unlikely that any woman lawyer who is being harassed or been assaulted will want to report harassment faced by them as the bar always openly sides with the accused men,” the letter added, appealing for the “rot in the system” to be dealt with.

Also read: Women lawyers don’t feel safe anymore in Supreme Court, says lawyer Indira Jaising

‘Absolutely truthful and creditworthy’

The judgment against Khosla, mentions that Kohli had alleged that she was often pressured by Khosla, who was then the secretary of the Delhi Bar Association (DBA), to join processions and demonstrations on various issues, which she used to decline. Owing to this, Khosla threatened to remove the table and chair she used at Tis Hazari Lawyer’s Complex. While she filed a suit to prevent this from happening, she alleged that Khosla did in fact remove her seat while the case was pending.

Things escalated on 5 August 1994, when Khosla alleged she had been “pulled the complainant from her hair, twisted her arms and dragged her by hair, utter filthy abuses and threatened her”, according to the verdict. She filed a police complaint against Khosla the same day, but the FIR was lodged by the police only on 10 August.

The court has now ruled that Kohli’s allegations were “absolutely truthful and creditworthy” and found her version trustworthy, observing, “It is impossible for a person to so minutely cook up a story as allegedly done by the complainant…The sequence of these events cannot be created artificially. These are natural events and testimony of the complainant qua same is truthful and creditworthy in respect of core allegations”.

He was therefore found guilty under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 506(i) (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code. The matter will next be heard on 15 November for arguments on the sentence.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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