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An open letter has been addressed to Chairman of the Bar Council of India (BCI) Manan Kumar Mishra, condemning recent misogynistic, irresponsible, generalised, regressive, legally and statistically uninformed statements made by him in the wake of sexual harassment allegations levelled against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
The open letter endorsed by over 200 lawyers, including senior litigators and law firm partners states,
“…we have lately watched with deep concern, as you have made several reprehensible public statements which demonstrate a serious lack of principled leadership of the Bar, and a glaring lack of commitment to basic constitutional values of equality and non-discrimination, not to mention a glaring violation of your duties, as a lawyer, towards the pursuit of justice.“
Formally signed off by the Women of India for Collaboration and Empowerment (WOICE) in Law, the letter goes on to demand that Mishra retract his retrograde statements and issue a public apology.
In particular, the letter criticises Mishra’s recent call for support of a “Men Too” silent protest as well as certain statements made by Mishra in his earlier “Appeal to the Members of the Legal Community“. The collective has contended that these statements expose Mishra’s personal misogynistic presumptions and that they wilfully ignore societal realities.
Mishra had issued the statement while expressing his support for CJI Gogoi, in the face of mounting criticism against the clean chit given by the in-house inquiry committee with respect to the sexual harassment allegations levelled against him.
Apart from questioning the complainant’s motives and lauding the inquiry committee’s verdict in the matter as “totally just and proper“, the BCI Chairman had also called for amending laws concerning sexual offences. This included recommending changes to the rape law under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the offence of outraging the modesty of women under Section 354, IPC.
Countering Mishra’s claim that 90% sexual offence complaints are malicious and that they would result in acquittals if the law is properly applied, the statement highlights,
“It is also factually inaccurate – conviction rates have remained abysmally low, despite legal reform in the context of sexual offences. The NCRB 2016 data indicates that the conviction rate for rape cases was an abysmal 25.5% while in cases under S.354, conviction rates were only 21.8%.“
In goes on to note,
“Even in the small number of cases where complaints are in fact made, acquittals are more often than not a result of failures of the police and the prosecution to secure vital evidence, intimidation of witnesses and several other factors that are unfortunately endemic problems in our criminal justice system.“
Among other things, the statement highlights that Mishra’s call for imposing a limitation period for reporting sexual offences “is not rooted in criminal law jurisprudence and research, but more an expression of your personal beliefs that seek to delegitimise the struggle and pursuit of justice sought by many who have been subject to sexual offences.”
Vehement objection has also been registered against Mishra’s use of the BCI letterhead to broadcast these views. The WOICE letter states,
“Your use of the letterhead of the Bar Council of India and addressing of the Appeal in your capacity as Chairman of the Bar Council of India constitutes a grave abuse of your office. The views expressed by you are fundamentally opposed to the basic tenets of law and they do not and could not possibly represent the views of the members of the Bar as a whole.”
The collective concludes the letter by demanding that Mishra step down from the post of BCI Chairman, if he does not retract the controversial statements. It states,
“You are therefore called upon to immediately, publicly retract the said Appeal, and to express public regret for your irresponsible, retrograde statements perpetuating misogynistic stereotypes. In view of the above, and in light of your failure to provide principled leadership to the bar, as women lawyers, we have no confidence in your leadership and we therefore call upon you to step down from your position as Chairman of the Bar Council of India.”
[Read the WOICE Letter below]