INDIA’S Supreme Court released a glossary last week of “gender-unjust terms” it wants the legal community to avoid when preparing pleas, orders and judgments, and suggested some alternatives.
Among the changes recommended by the court’s Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes are use of the word “woman” to replace terms such as “career woman”, “fallen woman”, “harlot”, “seductress” and “whore”.
Last Wednesday’s (16) document aims to help judges and legal community to identify, understand and combat stereotypes about women, chief justice DY Chandrachud, who led the effort, wrote in a foreword that thanked several individuals.
“Relying on predetermined stereotypes in judicial decision-making contravenes the duty of judges to decide each case on its merits, independently and impartially,” he added. The handbook advises use of phrases such as “street sexual harassment” instead of “eve-teasing”, a term that is prevalent in India, despite having fallen out of use elsewhere.
It suggests “mother” to replace “unwed mother”, and “sexually harassed, assaulted or raped” instead of “violated”.
Use of terms such as “survivor” and “victim” are both applicable to describe those affected by sexual violence, it added, unless the individual concerned expresses a preference, which should then be respected.
Besides listing gender stereotypes, it exposes the flawed reasoning behind notions such as women being “overly emotional”, “physically weaker”, or “more nurturing”.
It also takes aim at some ideas in India’s society about gender roles, sex and violence, such as domestic chores being confined to women or that their use of alcohol or tobacco suggests they “want to engage in sexual relations with men”. It states, “Judges must be vigilant against all forms of gender biases and ensure that every person, regardless of their gender identity, is treated equally and with dignity.” Groups advocating for women’s rights welcomed the step.
“Language is not just communication, it also in a way paints a picture of society, people, and values,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in Delhi.
“We are very happy that those words have been chosen carefully and redefined,” she said.