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Supreme Court Handbook

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August 18, 2023

Why in news?

The Supreme Court (SC) recently released a handbook meant to be used by the judges as a guide to gender-just language.

What is the SC handbook about?

  • About- It is a 30 page booklet launched to assist judges and the legal community in identifying, understanding and combating stereotypes about women.
  • It contains a glossary of gender-unjust terms and suggests alternative words or phrases which may be used while drafting pleadings as well as orders and judgments.
  • Aim- To identify the language that promotes gender stereotypes and offering alternative words and phrases
  • To identify common reasoning patterns that are based on gender stereotypes particularly about women and discussing why they are incorrect.
  • To highlight binding decisions of the Supreme Court that have rejected these stereotypes and can be utilised by judges to dispel gender stereotypes.
  • Delhi gang rape case- In the 2017 Supreme Court ruling awarding the death penalty for the convicts in the Delhi gang-rape case, the verdict repeatedly uses the word “ravished” to say raped.

sc-handbook

Why it is important for the judges to use the right word?

  • Mirror of society- The handbook argues that the language a judge uses reflects not only their interpretation of the law, but their perception of society as well.
  • Impetus to constitution- Stereotypical language may reinforce ideas contrary to our constitutional ethos like ‘equal protection of laws’
  • Values of law- Words are the vehicle through which the values of the law are communicated.
  • Words transmit the ultimate intention of the lawmaker or the judge to the nation.
  • Patriarchal stereotypes- Use of words like chaste women, seductress, wanton woman used by judges reflects the patriarchal stereotypes that are unacceptable by the judicial authority.
  • Impetus to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- It will foster Gender equality (SDG 5) by actively challenging and ousting harmful stereotypes.
  • It further gives impetus to reducing inequalities (SDG 10) and reduce discrimination in the society.
  • Gender- just legal order - Gender identity is not limited to a binary (girl/woman and boy/man) but rather exists on a spectrum and can evolve over time. 
  • It is a significant step towards a gender- just legal order.
  • Caste-sexual assault dynamic- Dominant caste men have historically used sexual violence as a tool to reinforce and maintain caste hierarchies.
  • It is against the preconceived notion that the dominant caste men do not want to engage in sexual relations with women from oppressed castes, hence allegation of sexual assault is considered false.
  • Ensure justice- It marks a significant milestone in the journey towards a more just and equitable society.

What is the current doctrine on stereotypes?

  • Joseph Shine v. Union of India- Supreme Court struck down the offence of “adultery” under Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  • The court observed that the provision is arbitrary and discriminatory.
  • State of Jharkhand v. Shailendra Kumar Rai- Supreme Court reiterated its categorical ban on the “two finger test” as it is
    • Irrelevant for determining rape
    • Violates the dignity of rape survivors or victims
  • State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh- The court observed that the testimony of a survivor or victim of sexual violence is inherently credible.
  • It should not be doubted merely due to incorrect assumptions that women seek to foist false cases against men.
  • State of Uttar Pradesh v. Chhotey Lal- The court observed that the absence of injuries is not determinative of the absence of sexual violence.
  • It must be examined within the facts and circumstances of each case.

Similar Efforts in Other Countries

  • Canada- The Women’s Court of Canada, a collective of female lawyers, academics and activists write “shadow judgements” on equality law.
  • India- Indian Feminist Judgement Project also ‘rewrites’ judgements with a feminist critique.

 

References

  1. Indian Express- Explained SC handbook
  2. Supreme Court- Handbook on gender stereotypes
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