SC Tells Lower Courts Not To Trivialize Sexual Abuse, Perpetuate Sexism
The Supreme Court has issued seven core guidelines to lower courts as a measure to avoid trivializing sexual offenses in court rulings. This particular direction comes after the Madhya Pradesh High Court ordered a sexual assault survivor to tie a rakhi to the accused as part of the latter’s bail condition, a ruling which sparked widespread outrage.
The High Court order specifically said, “The applicant along with his wife shall visit the house of the complainant with Rakhi thread/band on 03rd August 2020 at 11:00 am with a box of sweets and request the complainant-Sarda Bai to tie the Rakhi band to him with the promise to protect her to the best of his ability for all times to come.”
The Supreme Court, in response to this, stated on Thursday, “Courts should desist from expressing any stereotype opinion, in words spoken during proceedings, or in the course of a judicial order.” The court further noted that stereotyping reflects adversely on the country’s judicial system, and undermines the guarantee of fair justice to all — especially to victims of sexual assault. Judges can play a significant role in removing stereotypes from the Indian judicial system, the court added.
The bench, comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and S. Ravindra Bhat, also cautioned, “This requires judges to identify gender stereotyping, and identify how the application, enforcement or perpetuation of these stereotypes discriminates against women or denies them equal access to justice. Stereotyping might compromise the impartiality of a judge’s decision and affect his or her views about witness credibility or the culpability of the accused person.”
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The Supreme Court’s 12 compulsory guidelines for judges to avoid in their remarks and judgments are as follows:
- women are physically weak and need protection;
- women are incapable of or cannot take decisions on their own;
- men are the ‘head’ of the household and should take all the decisions relating to family;
- women should be submissive and obedient according to our culture; ‘good’ women are sexually chaste;
- motherhood is the duty and role of every woman and assumptions to the effect that she wants to be a mother;
- women should be the ones in charge of their children, their upbringing, and care;
- being alone at night or wearing certain clothes make women responsible for being attacked;
- a woman consuming alcohol, smoking, etc., may justify unwelcome advances by men or ‘has asked for it’;
- women are emotional and often overreact or dramatize events, hence it is necessary to corroborate their testimony;
- testimonial evidence provided by women who are sexually active may be suspected when assessing ‘consent’ in sexual offence cases;
- lack of evidence of physical harm in sexual offence case leads to an inference of consent by the woman.
The Supreme Court’s present stance on sexual violence might help restore public faith in the judiciary’s ability to safeguard women’s rights. “Men, perhaps more than women, have a duty and role to play in averting and combating violence against women,” the apex court said.