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Hands On Session IV : Gender Based Violence – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Hands On Session IV : Gender Based Violence

Session Report
Ananya Anand

Centre for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) and Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organized LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship- Cohort 2.0 Winter’23 which is an A One-Month Immersive Online Law and Public Policy Awareness Certificate Training Course and Internship Program. The theme of this course is Promoting Human Rights and Ending Gender-Based Violence. On Day 5 of the program Adv Dr Shalu Nigam, Visiting Senior Fellow IMPRI; Advocate, Author, and Researcher, Gender and Human Rights lead a Hands On Session IV on Gender Based Violence,

Adv. Dr. Shalu Nigam delivered a compelling presentation that delved into the intricate and often overlooked gender dynamics within Indian courtrooms. Dr. Nigam shed light on the challenges faced by women seeking justice, recent initiatives such as the Supreme Court’s handbook on combating gender stereotypes, and the pressing need for a holistic approach to eliminate gender biases within the legal system.

Dr. Shalu Nigam initiated her presentation by acknowledging the considerable emphasis placed by the Indian women’s movement on lawmaking and law enforcement to address Gender-Based Violence (GBV). She brought attention to a recent development – a handbook introduced by the Supreme Court titled ‘Combating Gender Stereotypes.’ The Chief Justice of India, in endorsing this handbook, underscored the importance of judges actively challenging and dispelling harmful stereotypes in their decision-making processes and legal writings.

The handbook primarily focuses on language used within courtrooms, proposing replacements for terms that perpetuate gender biases. Dr. Nigam highlighted several examples, such as suggesting replacing the term ‘eve-teasing’ with ‘street sexual harassment.’ This linguistic shift reflects a conscious effort to reshape language in the legal realm to be more gender-sensitive and inclusive.

Dr. Nigam’s presentation delved deeper into the handbook’s recommendations regarding stereotypes prevalent in legal proceedings. The proposed replacements for terms like ‘housewife’ with ‘homemaker’ and ‘mistress’ with ‘women with whom a man has a romantic or sexual relationship outside marriage’ are aimed at dismantling ingrained biases and fostering a more inclusive legal language.

The presentation emphasized the handbook’s stance on debunking myths surrounding women’s physical capabilities and emotional tendencies. Dr. Nigam highlighted that while physiological differences exist between men and women, it is crucial to recognize that a person’s strength is not solely determined by gender but is influenced by various factors like genetics and nutrition.

A significant portion of Dr. Nigam’s presentation was dedicated to addressing the underrepresentation of women in the judiciary. Despite recent legislative advancements, such as the Women’s Reservation Bill, the statistics remain disconcerting. Only 4% of Supreme Court judges and 11.5% of High Court judges are women. Dr. Nigam stressed the importance of not only reforming language but also addressing the systemic issues that perpetuate gender disparities within the legal system.

The presentation acknowledged positive strides in some states, such as Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Rajasthan, which have implemented reservation policies for women in the lower judiciary. However, Dr. Nigam emphasized the absence of similar policies in higher courts and the need for comprehensive measures to eliminate biases.

Dr. Nigam painted a vivid picture of the challenges faced by women in the legal profession. The hostile environment within courtrooms, societal barriers, and infrastructural deficiencies contribute to the underrepresentation of women in legal proceedings. The testimonial of a judge from Uttar Pradesh, who faced sexual harassment within the legal fraternity, served as a poignant example of the deep-rooted issues within the system.

The presentation underscored the need for urgent attention to these challenges, with a call for increased awareness, inclusivity, and reforms to foster a more supportive and equitable environment for women in the legal profession.

Amidst the challenges, Dr. Nigam highlighted positive legal developments that signal the potential for positive change. Legal judgments recognizing the rights of unwed single mothers, affirming LGBT rights, and addressing women’s entry into places of worship showcase instances where the legal system has acted as a catalyst for progressive change.

However, the presentation acknowledged that these positive developments are not uniform across all cases, and biases persist in certain legal judgments. Dr. Nigam stressed the importance of consistent efforts to challenge and dismantle patriarchal norms within the legal system.

To illustrate the nuanced nature of gender dynamics within Indian courtrooms, Dr. Nigam delved into specific cases, shedding light on how legal judgments can either perpetuate or challenge gender biases. One such case highlighted was Mohammed Pacchi’s case of 2017, where a disturbing standard of consent was formulated, stating that a feeble ‘no’ could be construed as ‘yes.’ This case exemplifies how certain legal decisions contribute to perpetuating harmful stereotypes and undermining the agency of survivors.

Dr. Nigam also highlighted cases where courts reinforced patriarchal norms, such as equating the wearing of specific symbols like mangalsutra with being a ‘good married woman.’ This exemplifies how societal expectations and gender norms seep into legal judgments, influencing the outcomes of cases related to marriage and domestic issues.

While acknowledging the positive developments, Dr. Nigam stressed the imperative for comprehensive reforms beyond linguistic changes and legal judgments. The underrepresentation of women in the judiciary, challenges faced by women in the legal profession, and biases within the legal system demand urgent attention and multifaceted solutions.

Dr. Nigam reiterated that addressing gender dynamics within Indian courtrooms requires not only legal reforms but also a shift in societal attitudes, increased awareness, and inclusivity. It necessitates a holistic approach that considers systemic changes, educational initiatives, and the fostering of a more supportive environment for women within the legal profession.

Adv. Dr. Shalu Nigam’s presentation provided a comprehensive exploration of gender dynamics within Indian courtrooms, unveiling the complexities surrounding Gender-Based Violence. The initiatives discussed, such as the Supreme Court handbook and positive legal judgments, underscore the potential for transformative change. However, Dr. Nigam emphasized that these efforts must be part of a broader strategy, addressing systemic issues, increasing women’s representation, and fostering a more inclusive legal environment.

Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Tanu Paliwal, a research intern at IMPRI.

Read also more at IMPRI:

Addressing Gender-based Violence & the Way Forward

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IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

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