Through my Looking Glass

by Stella James

Sometimes the most difficult things to write about are also the most essential. I feel this is especially true when many people, much more scholarly than oneself, have already said and written a lot around the issue, and yet your own experience does not seem to fit into the wide net that they’ve cast. Gandhi once said “I have something far more powerful than arguments, namely, experience”. And it is from these words that I derive what I consider the ‘value’ of this piece – not my experience per se, but from what I feel that my experience can tell us about much discussed issues in the country today.

Tenniel_red_queen_with_aliceLast December was momentous for the feminist movement in the country – almost an entire population seemed to rise up spontaneously against the violence on women, and the injustices of a seemingly apathetic government. In the strange irony of situations that our world is replete with, the protests were the backdrop of my own experience. In Delhi at that time, interning during the winter vacations of my final year in University, I dodged police barricades and fatigue to go to the assistance of a highly reputed, recently retired Supreme Court judge whom I was working under during my penultimate semester. For my supposed diligence, I was rewarded with sexual assault (not physically injurious, but nevertheless violating) from a man old enough to be my grandfather. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that long after I’d left the room, the memory remained, in fact, still remains, with me.

So what bothered me about this incident? As a conditioned member of the society, I had quickly “gotten over” the incident. But was that what worried me: that I had accepted what was essentially an ‘unacceptable’ situation. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the crux of my unease lay in my inability to find a frame in which to talk, or even think, about my experience. While the incident affected me deeply, I felt little anger and almost no rancour towards the man; instead I was shocked and hurt that someone I respected so much would do something like this. My strongest reaction really, was overwhelming sadness. But this sort of response was new to me. That I could understand his actions and forgive him for them, or that I could continue to think of him as an essentially ‘good’ person, seemed a naïve position that were completely at odds with what I had come to accept was the “right” reaction to such incidents.

This emotional response was also completely at odds with the powerful feelings of righteous anger that the protestors in Delhi displayed. I am not trying to say that anger at the violence that women face is not a just or true response, but the polarization of women’s rights debates in India along with their intense emotionality, left me feeling that my only options were to either strongly condemn the judge or to betray my feminist principles. Perhaps this confusion came out of an inadequate understanding of feminist literature, but if so, isn’t then my skewed perception a failing of feminism itself? If the shared experiences of women cannot be easily understood through a feminist lens, then clearly there is a cognitive vacuum that feminism fails to fill. Feminists talk of the guilt a woman faces when sexually harassed, like it is her fault. I felt a similar guilt, except, my guilt wasn’t at being assaulted, but at not reacting more strongly than I did. The very perspective that was meant to help me make sense of my experiences as a woman was the one that obscured the resolution of the problem in my own mind, presumably an effect that feminism does not desire. And if not a result of feminist theory itself, the form that it has taken in India, especially after recent incidents of sexual assault, strengthened the feeling of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” in a fight that I feel I can no longer take sides in.

All the talk during that time was of stricter punishment, of baying for the blood of “creepy” men. Five years of law school had taught me to look to the law for all solutions – even where I knew that the law was hopelessly inadequate – and my reluctance to wage a legal battle against the judge left me feeling cowardly. On reflection though, I cannot help but wonder why I should have felt that way. As mentioned earlier, I bore, and still bear, no real ill-will towards the man, and had no desire to put his life’s work and reputation in question. On the other hand, I felt I had a responsibility to ensure that other young girls were not put in a similar situation. But I have been unable to find a solution that allows that. Despite the heated public debates, despite a vast army of feminist vigilantes, despite new criminal laws and sexual harassment laws, I have not found closure. The lack of such an alternative led to my facing a crippling sense of intellectual and moral helplessness.

The incident is now a while behind me, and they say time heals all wounds. But during the most difficult emotional times, what helped me most was the ‘insensitivity’ of a close friend whose light-hearted mocking allowed me to laugh at an incident (and a man) that had caused me so much pain. Allowing myself to feel more than just anger at a man who violated me, something that I had never done before, is liberating! So, I want to ask you to think of one thing alone – when dealing with sexual violence, can we allow ourselves to embrace feelings beyond or besides anger, and to accept the complexity of emotions that we face when dealing with any traumatic experience?

Image courtesy: here.

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225 thoughts on “Through my Looking Glass

  1. Well, sorry to say – that’s the real difference between graduated and educated. We are getting graduated but not educated. As soon as this incident happen, girls of your caliber who know law much better failed to take right steps, think about those girls/women never went to school. Now again sorry but people like you are more responsible the way society is right now. I bet this is not the first time that grim person tried to do to a girl. And guess what, he almost succeded few more months this time as well, till some of your friend pushed you to write about this. No consolation will help you to reach at the state of mind before the incident no matter how many candel we burn. Being that strong, If we dont have a courage to stand up to bully, we are doing more injustice to weaker people who need more hep!

  2. Stella James, you may not have wanted the SC enquiry. But, the fact that there was one and that your evidence was found to make a prima facie case for sexual harrassment (or whatever obfuatory term the SC used), means a great deal for women’s fight against mysogyny/sexism and the harrassement that is made possible by these. I am sure your male dominated profession will make things hard for you, I hope knowing that there are women out there who respect you for what you did, and will tell their daughters about Stella James, will help a little.

  3. Stella, you are a brave, beautiful, and courageous woman. Mostly importantly, I want you to know that you are not alone. I have met Justice Ganguly and had my own encounters with him and from the moment I read your story, I knew it was true. From Washington D.C., we stand with you. We know what you are going through is not easy, but you are strong for standing up to this. If I can ever help you, like with an internship with people who will respect your work and your dignity here in Washington DC, please let me know. If you are interested, please let me know where I can email you.

  4. What you have written in your blog, Ms. Ex-Law Intern, is good material for third rate novels but not convincing at all. You should gather your thoughts as a law student and take steps accordingly. Why did you not go to the police immediately and file a complain? Why blog? Think of the damage you have done to other female law interns. No male lawyer in his right mind will engage female interns after this. This will adversely effect the future of thousands of women engaged in other fields of occupation also. Add to this the draconian anti-rape/molestation laws of this godforsaken country. If I become an employer someday, I shall not engage a female employee, ever. It is better to be safe than sorry.

    1. Your answer Mr SB is absurd and ridiculous. Why not go to the police? You gave the answer yourself: because there are people like you who do not think and blame victims instead of having compassion.

  5. Dear Miss James,
    Though I am not a member of the legal system as you are and not that my opinions do matter.
    All my opinions are with due respect to your knowledge.
    However as a common person I have the right to reply to your “righteous proclamation” in my own manner.
    Firstly as a follower of newspapers I can say that one can never dare to question the apparently “impartial” decision of the Supreme Court which generally targets men as villains. Here while the (female) accuser’s name is surprisingly not revealed but the accused (proven or not) has his name image and reputation tarnished as he is hounded by cops and media facing degrading questions and deprecatory sneers and jeers alike. Perhaps someone as knowledgeable as your noble self will never understand the shame and fear that any respected person has to undergo when people find the police waiting outside his door-step.
    Secondly, Madam, every coin has two sides. How can we the public believe only your statement as we do not exactly know what happened within the hotel room behind closed doors? First and foremost we do not know whether this is some game-plan to malign a person (as there were obviously no cameras monitoring the incident) and secondly there might be endless possibilities to the story which I do not want to discuss.
    Duly respecting yet questioning the attempts and efforts of the highest law making body I can as an ignorant person in my lowest capacity can only request the legal system to provide equal opportunities to maintain the secrecy of a person whom you raise your finger at a person until he is proven guilty. (Oh and yes isn’t the law equal in spite of sexes? )
    Finally Supporting the views of Mr. Bhattacharya I do thank you for changing my views about women and think twice before employing women. And anyways women do have a lot of reservations ranging from bus and train to job sectors so I guess that won’t be a problem for feminists.
    Yes it is better to be safe than sorry.

    1. SC Committee headed by CJI has found Ganguly had made unwelcome and unpleasant actions. So your concern for Mr.Ganguly’s reputation would attack the conscience of any educated citizen.

      * Female accused is not surprisingly revealed – do you really want that happen? Any morality or decency left in India for poor Indian women?

      * You want to keep the person’s name guilty just because you think there might be some conspiracy theory behind this case. Only Tejpal has to be brought out of the jail to help ignorant persons in the lowest capacity give some video footage.

      * Unless and otherwise a person known to us is molested or harassed or jeered or abused in a train or bus even with reservations we will never really start to appreciate the plight of poor Indian middle class women. And going by your intentions of not giving job to women in your business, i think none of the women in your family would have to go through harrowing experiences that women from middle class families would have to undergo / undergone.

      1. Since the decision of the SC and not the process been brought out so there canbe no comments. Regarding the points by you
        * Yes why not ? If its a liberal country then accordingly everyone must be given a fair chance of secrecy and annonimity to save his image. What about morality and decency for Indian men? Or will they be termed as villains everywhere?
        * Regarding the Tejpal issue it was only on the person’s complaint that he was publicly summoned to court . So whether the act was consensual is still questionable. Not that it matters because he has been sent to rot and his image has been tarnished.
        *finally although unlike the rules you hv md a personl comment I would remind you that there have been instances where innocent men have been framed and adam teased in office but cannot approach the law as noone would believe them and hope sincerely that it doesn’t happen to any of the men from your family. So yes both men and women do undergo sad harrowing conditions but they must be given equal chances to defend.

  6. Dear Stella,

    This is Sourav layek from Indian institute of Technology,Guwahati want to tell something else which I realized myself needful to tell you.

    1> Please let me pardon if I am stating anything against the feelings and emotions.First of all it seems to me that this blog stated your experience about Justice A.K ganguly which all sort of political parties misused to keep him aside from his responsible position in human rights commission in west bengal led to resignation under improper situation.your feelings as well as bitter experience might be true but so far I am concern at last he is still a man of proper morality as well as dignity who served the nation through his service till now.

    2>Is there any wrong if you would urge Justice ganguly about the wrong perception and behavioral activities happened during that span and come up with a transparent press met and clarify all about the reality.

    3>please do it begging to you as a true citizen of this country and help to Mr.ganguly as well as to your family to stay peacefully in the future.

    Thanks and regards,


  7. After Stella James there is one more case which is made public, we read a shocking response from the Supreme Court ! Can we deal with a complaint made after 15 or 20 Years. There are hundreds of retired Supreme Court Judges in their eighties and nineties. Etc. these comments are unfortunate an shocking. The intern gathered guts only because the Supreme Court took Action in the first case of Ms James. If there are more cases they have to be dealt with by the Supreme Court . The Honble Supreme Court is not obliging the people of this country when the are enquiring into the conduct of their colleagues. It is their bounden and Constitutional Duty towards Society and the people who have put them up on the lofty pedestal. If another 5 or 10 or even more judges have misbehaved and interns or anybody complains it is their moral legal and Consitutional Duty to investigate and take action.

  8. Three Cheers for the second molester judge A High court has granted him an injunction. The next step will be a show cause notice to the intern and they will put her in her place. What cheek making allegations against a Supreme Court Judge! The intern deserves punishment for tarnishing the image of the Supreme Court. And why not exemplary damages. After all the cream of Lawyers have sided with him and appeared for the Judge. So many legal luminaries cannot be wrong. Poor Justice Ganguly he did not play such strategy and faced an investigation. The Honble Supreme Court has powers to withdraw any proceedings from a High Court and transfer the same to itself in the interests of justice. This is a fit case so that no further time is wasted for the exoneration of the Judge. What a wonderful legal system we have. Judges and Lawyers take up their own cause and deliver instant justice! The intern may go to hell. The reputation of the Judges has to be protected. After all they deal with cases of rape and molestation themselves so they should not be equated with common criminals.

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