‘Slut, seductress’ are simply ‘women’, ‘eve teasing’ is ‘street sexual harassment’: what SC handbook on gender stereotypes says | Explained News


A “career woman” is only a “woman”; “eve teasing” is “street sexual harassment” and “forcible rape” is simply “rape.” These corrections in sexual stereotypes are part of a handbook for judges and other legal practitioners released Wednesday by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud.

“Where the language of judicial discourse reflects antiquated or incorrect ideas about women, it inhibits the transformative project of the law and the Constitution of India, which seek to secure equal rights to all persons, irrespective of gender,” the handbook states.

What is the handbook?

The SC handbook is a 30-page booklet that aims to assist judges and the legal community in identifying, understanding and combating stereotypes about women. The handbook identifies common stereotypical words and phrases used about women, many of them routinely found in judgements.

For example, 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.

“It is absolutely obvious that the accused persons had found an object for enjoyment in her and, as is evident, they were obsessed with the singular purpose sans any feeling to ravish her as they liked, treat her as they felt and, if we allow ourselves to say, the gross sadistic and beastly instinctual pleasures came to the forefront when they, after ravishing her, thought it to be just a matter of routine to throw her along with her friend out of the bus and crush them,” the Court said.

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The handbook quotes other judgements where judges unwittingly use stereotypical characterisations of women.

“A girl aged 24 years is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited in many ways,” a 2017 judgement of the Kerala High Court said.

SC handbook gender Some of the terms the SC handbook flags, and the alternatives it suggests. (Screenshot)

Some of the “stereotype promoting language” the handbook flags as “incorrect”, and suggests “alternative language (preferred)” for, include ‘concubine/keep’ for which the suggestion is ‘woman with whom a man has had romantic or sexual relations outside of marriage’; for ‘a woman of easy virtue’, simply ‘woman’; for ‘child prostitute’; a ‘child who has been trafficked’; and for ‘Hormonal (to describe a woman’s emotional state)’, the use of ‘a gender neutral term to describe the emotion (e.g., compassionate or enthusiastic)’.

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

The handbook argues that the language a judge uses reflects not only their interpretation of the law, but their perception of society as well.

“Even when the use of stereotypes does not alter the outcome of a case, stereotypical language may reinforce ideas contrary to our constitutional ethos. Language is critical to the life of the 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,” it states.

Have there been similar efforts in other countries?

There have been projects in other countries, pushed by both academia and practitioners, which hold up a mirror for the court’s practices.

For example, the Women’s Court of Canada, a collective of female lawyers, academics and activists write “shadow judgements” on equality law.

In India, the Indian Feminist Judgement Project also ‘rewrites’ judgements with a feminist critique. It is led by advocate Jhuma Sen, Dr Aparna Chandra at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, and Dr Rachna Chaudhary at the Ambedkar University, Delhi.





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