"I am a person in my own right," retorted senior advocate Indira Jaising on Thursday, protesting against Attorney General KK Venugopal's reference to her as "Anand Grover's wife". A day later, on the occasion of International Women's Day, Jaising wrote an open letter to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi demanding a "ban on sexist language in courts".
In a strongly-worded letter, Jaising spoke about the power that language holds in daily life, asserting that the ability to communicate transcends into "an intuitive social, cultural, and political indicator, which reflects the prevailing attitudes and ethos of any society."
"In this way, sexist language is violent," Jaising stated, adding, "It needs to be reminded to everyone in our profession that such power wielded by our words inside the courtrooms and outside should be eliminated so as to not manifest as violence."
Jaising then went on to detail various instances of sexism she has personally faced in the courts — including the Supreme Court of India — and the sexism that is prevalent in the field of law in general. Jaising pointed out how, in the male-dominated courts, colleagues and judges have often not condemned sexist language but on the other hand, have resorted to sexist language in their judgments as recent as 2018.
The advocate said, "In my years at the Bar, there have been multiple incidents where sexist remarks being made by lawyers, go unnoticed by the Bench. Such tacit acceptance of sexist language in the courtroom and brushing it aside as 'didn’t mean any harm', gives it a level of legitimacy."
She added, "On another occasion in the Supreme Court, while I was arguing, a senior male lawyer referred to me as “that woman” while he was referring to all his male colleagues as “my learned friend”, and this, when I was the Additional Solicitor General and was representing the CBI. I expected the judge to immediately reprimand him, but he did not. Instead the judge was enjoying the spectacle and smiling. I asked for protection from the use of such derogatory language and he said, “Madam, you don’t need any protection, you are overprotected”.
The judgments passed by the courts enjoy the status of being the law of the land, Jaising said, adding, "Unfortunately judicial language continues to use words and phrases which perpetuate patriarchy, endorse stereotypes of women’s perceived roles and behaviour and entrench biases that are detrimental to the status of women in our society."
In conclusion, Jaising urged the CJI to take "active measures" to ensure that advocates and judges across the country are "mindful and checked" for the gender sensitivity in their language, regardless of whether they are within the courtrooms or outside. "It has been over 70 years that Article 15 of the Constitution entitled persons of all sexes equal status in this country."
She also put forward four suggestions: To institute a Commission of Inquiry to do a gender audit of courtroom culture; to organise a fact-finding committee to document judgments and judicial documents that contain sexist remarks; to make active efforts to be aware if a person in a senior position has condoned sexist behaviour; and to issue a circular to judges across the country to check the usage of sexist language.
"The symbol of justice may be a blindfolded woman, but none of us will settle for tokenism or symbols," Jaising concluded, wishing the CJI a Happy Women's day.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2019 16:56:25 IST