A video of Justice Karnan making objectionable comments against women and even accusing judges of the Supreme Court of sexual assault had gone viral on WhatsApp.

A stylised image of Justice CS Karnan looking to his right placed on a blue background
news Law Sunday, October 25, 2020 - 14:27

Ten lawyers of the Madras High Court on Saturday wrote to Chief Justice of India Sharad A Bobde against former Justice CS Karnan over a video of him that has been doing the rounds on social media. In the video, Justice Karnan is heard making objectionable remarks against women, threatening sexual violence against people in the judiciary. He also alleged that some judges of the Supreme Court and High Court have “sexually assaulted few women court staff and women judges” and even goes on to name the alleged victims.

“The video and its contents are outrageous, reprehensible and constitute offences under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998, 66A of the Information and Technology Act and Sections 292,354 A and 506 of the IPC. What is worse is naming the alleged victims, an act prohibited by law, a fact that a judge should surely know,” the letter to the CJI states. 

The letter has been signed by ten women lawyers, including R Vaigai, Sudha Ramalingam, Anna Mathew, Geeta Ramaseshan, D Nagasaila, D Geeta, S Devika, Akila RS, NS Tanvi and Nivedita Menon. The letter states that CS Karnan, a former High Court judge, is seen in that video, which has been in circulation on WhatsApp recently, making a statement that he had already threatened to sexually assault the wives of thirteen former and present Supreme Court judges and a retired woman judge of the Supreme Court. Further, he names several women court staff, a lawyer and others, with their designation, alleging that they were sexually abused by Supreme Court and High Court judges, leaving no room for doubt about the identity of the alleged victims.

“These statements by a former High Court judge amount to a horrific act of violence and an affront to the dignity of all women. His statements reveal a deep-rooted misogyny and is an assertion of patriarchal construction of gender and sexuality, where women are considered as private property of men,” the letter states. 

“We are compelled to write this to you because Mr. Karnan cannot claim any licence to denigrate women and commit offences against them merely because he belongs to the Scheduled Caste, who otherwise have Constitutional protection. His actions, however, amount to gross abuse of such Constitutional safeguards. His reference to Mandela is offensive and shockingly racist,” the letter adds. 

This sorry state of affairs is a direct consequence of the opaque nature of judicial appointments and lack of accountability, the lawyers have said in the letter.  The letter also called for reforms in judicial appointments, adding that till appointments are made on the basis of objective criteria with complete transparency and accountability, there exists the risk of the judiciary being exposed to such ridicule and losing credibility. The letter seeks for regular gender sensitization programmes to be conducted with the involvement of those with experience in the field of women’s rights. 

The letter has asked for action to be taken against Justice Karnan and also those circulating the video on WhatsApp and other social media. 

“As a first step, we request that i) the website server/social media that is being used to circulate the video should be directed to take down the video forthwith and ii) an investigation into the source of the video, the identity of the persons responsible for recording and uploading it and the time and place of recording, be ordered, based on which further action may be taken,” the letter says.

“The issue should be dealt with firmly and we request that stringent action be taken against Mr Karnan, including action for criminal prosecution. Further, it appears that the video has been recorded and is being circulated on WhatsApp by certain third parties. All of them involved in the recording, uploading and circulation of the video ought to be prosecuted. If any of them happen to be lawyers, the judiciary should proceed against them on the judicial side,” the letter also demands.

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