A judgment by the Supreme Court forbidding judges from making gender stereotypical comments came as a corrective voice from within the highest judiciary.
The judgment, pronounced on March 18, came days after the court ran into a maelstrom of criticism after the Chief Justice of India (CJI), during a virtual hearing on March 1, reportedly asked an alleged rapist’s lawyer to enquire whether his client would marry the survivor .
On March 8, Chief Justice Bobde said he was “completely misquoted”. The CJI said the court had the highest respect for womanhood. The top judge’s statement coincided with International Women’s Day.
Ten days later, a Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and S. Ravindra Bhat, in its judgment, urged courts to avoid using reasoning/language which diminished a sexual offence and tended to trivialise the survivor.
“Even a solitary instance of such order or utterance in court, reflects adversely on the entire judicial system of the country, undermining the guarantee to fair justice to all, and especially to victims of sexual violence (of any kind from the most aggravated to the so-called minor offences),” the judgment, authored by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, said.
The judgment stopped courts from trying to mandate marriage or compromise between a sex offender and his victim. The judgment was based on an appeal against a Madhya Pradesh High Court order directing an alleged molester to “allow” his victim to tie a rakhi on him.
This judgment is one among a series of interventions with which the apex court has clamped down on abuse and sex stereotyping of women.
Some of the notable judgments which have lashed out at sex stereotyping include the framing of the Vishaka Guidelines on sexual harassment of women in working places, and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s historic judgment giving women Armed Forces officers equal access to Permanent Commission while debunking the establishment’s claim that women were physiologically weaker than men.
Justice Chandrachud, in the Permanent Commission for women officers case, said “women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force… Their track record of service to the nation is beyond reproach. To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army — men and women — who serve as equal citizens in a common mission”.
In the Anuj Garg case, the Supreme Court had rebuked “the notion of romantic paternalism”, which, “in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage”.