Apex Court's handbook tries to smash gender stereotypes


Credits: Wikipedia

Ada Khan

Eve teasing, Prostitute, Housewife, Seductress, Bastard and many such other offensive sexist terms are used in our conversations, but now the Supreme Court of India has taken the initiative to put an end to it. “This is about stereotypes about women in legal discourse. It identifies stereotypes used by the courts. It is not to cast aspersion on judgments. It will help judges to avoid it by recognising language which leads to stereotypes. It highlights binding decisions," Chief Justice D.Y Chandrachud told The Times of India while releasing the “Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes” in New Delhi recently.

The Supreme Court of India released the handbook, which includes 40 alternative terms for derogatory patriarchal terms which are freely used in courts across the country. ‘Slut’, ‘Loose women’ are simply women, ‘forcible rape’ is just ‘rape’ and spinster would be replaced by ‘unmarried woman’. The handbook is a 30-page booklet that aims to assist judges and the legal community in identifying, understanding and combating stereotypes about women. The draft of this revolutionary handbook was initially prepared by Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya (High Court of Calcutta), Justice Pratibha Singh (High Court of Delhi), Professor Jhuma Sen (West Bengal University of Judicial Sciences, who focused on the LGBTQIA+ terms) and Chief Justice of India D.Y Chandrachud, who guided and edited this tome which involved consultation with experts and stakeholders for two years, according to The Indian Express. This handbook has been formulated with the main intention of recognising these gender stereotypes and helping to discontinue its usage in court language as well.

The handbook also provides a clear-cut understanding of what stereotypes are and how they function in our society, along with how such gender centric stereotypes could have a profound impact on judicial decisions in the near future. It argues that the language a judge uses reflects not only their interpretation of the law, but their perception of society as well. It also helps the public understand what constitutes stereotypes and what are the various kinds.

Justice D.Y Chandrachud believes that, “Language is critical to the life of the law”, as mentioned in the Handbook. A coherent distinction between Sex and Gender was made, where they mention that sex is a biological term assigned at birth and gender is based on one’s social construct. They also combat stereotypical beliefs such as women are emotionally driven, vulnerable and ‘good women’ are usually coy. They emphasize upon many topics like sexual harassment, presentation, gender roles and shatter the stereotypes.

If these gender stereotypes continued to be used often, they would encourage discrimination and exclusion. It would lead to a distorted interpretation of the law and would further ignite other sexist stereotypes. This remarkable effort by the Supreme Court is a formidable step in the process of helping foster a safe environment for all, where gender equality is a pillar of extreme importance. Correct usage of words is imperative as it helps shape societal narratives and thoughts and by providing these alternatives, the Supreme Court handbook’s reformed glossary aspires to establish a more mindful society.

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