The judiciary which interprets laws passed by legislative bodies is supposed to be neutral. This is the biggest problem, as the judiciary is a product of patriarchal social processes, M.K. Jayakumar, legal expert and currently legal adviser to the Chief Minister, has said.
He was delivering the inaugural address at a discussion on ‘Interpretation of laws from women’s perspective’, organised by the Women and Child Development Department in connection with the International Women’s Day celebrations here on Tuesday.
The judiciary’s patriarchal mindset was evident in its judgments on Section 498A (dowry harassment) of the IPC where it said the law was being misused, or in rape cases where it asked why the women raped acquiesced and did not protest. This patriarchal approach was a primary reason why laws failed, he said.
A change could be brought about through awareness and gender sensitisation. There should be increase in women’s representation in the judiciary and the police. But more significant was the interpretation of laws from women’s perspective, he said, citing an example of a project in a U.S. university where students and teachers together took a relook at various judgments and rewrote them from a feminist perspective.
J. Sandhya, lawyer, who delivered the introductory address, looked at the legal sector from a woman’s perspective — women as victims, witnesses, and complainants, when they were accused, and the situation of women lawyers.
She cited the immoral trafficking Act being misused to harass women. Citing a High Court remark in a case in 1971 asking how women could be perceived as properties and released on someone’s surety, she juxtaposed it against the same court’s verdict in the Hadiya case last year. The judgment, she said, saw Hadiya as a property whose parents could decide whom to hand her over to, Ms. Sandhya said.
Rajashree, lawyer, too cited laws to show how women’s perspective was missing in interpretation of laws. Talking about the apex court’s order on Section 498A of the IPC last year, she said the judgment had said the law was being misused, as if no other law was being misused.
As per Section 497 that dealt with adultery, the offence ceased the moment it was established that the husband connived or consented to the adulterous act as if a woman was the “property” of her husband, she pointed out, calling for need for gender awareness and equality in the judiciary and the police.
Maya Krishnan, lawyer, said the law laying down the marriageable age of men and women was a bad one from the legal aspect. It was the result of a patriarchal notion that the man should be older than his wife. She also referred the issue of marital rape to point out how gender sensitisation was needed.
Kumari, lawyer, moderated the discussion.