The Indian courts’ misogynistic handbook for rape survivors

The Karnataka High Court’s observation that falling asleep after rape is “unbecoming” of an Indian woman is only the latest in a line of misogynistic judgements that comment on the behaviour of women. Along with law student Anupriya Dhonchak, we sift through the cases.

Image courtesy: @penpencildraw

The Karnataka High Court’s observations on 22 June 2020 while granting bail in a rape case follow a judicial tradition of commenting on the behaviour of women, particularly in rape cases, according to an Article 14 review of recent Supreme Court and High Court judgements.

“The explanation offered by the complainant that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep, is unbecoming of an Indian woman,” said Justice Krishna S. Dixit in the case of Rakesh B vs State of Karnataka. “That is not the way our women react when ravished.”

The judge appeared also to be swayed by the fact that she was at her office at 11 pm and did not object to “consuming drinks with the petitioner and allowing him to stay with her till morning.”

The remarks sparked a storm of criticism.

SC’s judgment on women in the navy points to ingrained sexism

A two-judge Supreme Court bench orders that women officers in the navy be treated at par with men. Those who’ve suffered gender discrimination should be financially compensated.

The Indian Navy’s all-women Tarini crew circumnavigating the world/Indian Women Blog

“The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. History is replete with examples where women have been denied their just entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.” Justices Dhananjaya Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, 17 March, 2020

The Supreme Court, yet again, took the wrecking ball to patriarchy with its judgment this past week that allowed women in the navy to hold permanent commissions and appointments at par with men.

The ruling shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, a two-judge bench headed by Justices D.Y. Chandrachud along with Hemant Gupta had just a month earlier brushed aside all the usual objections – it would distract women from their family responsibilities, rank and file would not obey women – to rule that excluding women from top jobs in the army is illegal.

Media celebrated the army judgment with banner headlines. By comparison, reaction to the navy judgment has been muted. Yet, the second one takes the earlier judgment a step further.

How 11 women officers made army history

Lt Col Seema Singh and Lt Col Sandhya Yadav tell me how 11 officers fought tirelessly from 2008 to make history for women in the army. Their behind-the-scenes account includes tales of chocolate, congeniality and chai.

A few good women: (from left) Lt Cols Sonia Sehgal, Maninder Virdi, Sandhya Yadav, Seema Singh, Anupama Munshi/Pic courtesy Maninder Singh

When 11 women Army officers first filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in December 2008 to challenge a policy that restricted them to short service commissions, Lt Col Seema Singh’s daughter Garima was just eight or nine years old. “She used to accompany me to court whenever I went,” Singh, now 47, said.

On the day the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to keep women officers out from permanent positions (see accompanying story), Singh’s daughter was also present in court, now as a final year MBBS student. “My male colleagues were also present and brought Cadbury chocolates for us as presents,” she said over the phone. “There was never any animosity with our brother officers. We were only looking for gender parity with them.”

In fact, Singh’s husband was, like her, an ordinance officer. “There was conflict in the house because he would get so much more than I did,” she said. Her husband quit the army in 2017.

Excluding women from top army jobs is illegal: Supreme Court

In a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court has ruled that women army officers have a right to command posts.

Dismissing arguments made by the central government against giving women command appointments in the army on grounds of their ‘physiological limitations’ and domestic responsibilities, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of women is illegal.

The landmark judgment is a victory for gender equality guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution. “Implicit in the guarantee of equality is that where the action of the State does not differentiate between two classes of persons, it does not differentiate them in an unreasonable or irrational manner,” noted the judgment by a two-judge bench of Justices Dhananjay Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi.

The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the central government against a 2010 Delhi High Court decision that held that short service commissioned women officers are entitled to permanent commissions at par with men.

Appealing against that decision, the central government told the Supreme Court about the possible unwillingness of male troops, drawn from predominantly rural backgrounds, to accept a woman in command of their units.

Disorder in the House

My Hindustan Times column looks at what is perhaps the biggest scandal to hit the Supreme Court with the Chief Justice of India accused of sexual harassment. 

Their lordships have sworn to uphold Constitutional values of equality and dignity. Their courtrooms have delivered landmark judgments, like Vishaka, which affirmed women’s right to a safe workplace and preceded the law on sexual harassment by 16 years.

Now, one of its own, a first among equals, stands accused of sexual harassment. A signed affidavit by a former Supreme Court employee sits on the desk of 22 Supreme Court judges. It alleges not just sexual harassment but the targeted victimisation of the woman and her family for rebuffing the advances of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi in October last year, she says.

This was the apex court’s chance to shine. Instead, it has lurched from crisis to crisis.

Within days, the CJI himself sat in on an extraordinary Saturday hearing to look into a “matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary”. If the charge of sexual harassment is unprecedented, so is the use of a Supreme Court bench to launch a personal defence and malign a complainant.

Continue reading “Disorder in the House”