No “Concubine”, “Ladylike”, “Dutiful Wife”: Supreme Court’s New Handbook

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Prostitute, hooker, whore, keep, mistress, slut — these are among 40-odd words red-flagged by the Supreme Court in its latest handbook to sensitise judges against inadvertently furthering gender biases by using stereotypical words in court judgments.
Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud launched the ‘Handbook On Combating Gender Stereotypes’ this morning. Flagging stereotypical words used in past court judgments, he said, “These words are improper and have been used for women in court judgments. This handbook’s objective is not to criticise those judgments or doubt them. This is just to underline how gender stereotypes are perpetuated inadvertently.”

Explaining how stereotypes may impact judicial decision-making, the handbook states, “Like any person, a judge may also unconsciously hold or rely on stereotypes. If a judge relies on preconceived assumptions about people or groups when deciding cases or writing judgements, the harm caused can be enormous.”

“Even when judges reach legally correct outcomes, the use of reasoning or language that promotes gender stereotypes undermines the unique characteristics, autonomy, and dignity of the individuals before the court,” it stated, adding, “The use of stereotypes by judges also has the effect of entrenching and perpetuating stereotypes, creating a vicious cycle of injustice.”

Listing several stereotypical words and their alternatives, the handbook stated that words such as “faggot” or “fallen woman” or “harlot” need to be done away with in court judgments. Instead, it said, judges should accurately describe the sexual orientation of the person concerned — homosexual or bisexual, use “woman” and avoid words such as “fallen woman” and “harlot”.

Likewise, words such as “dutiful wife” and “obedient wife” should be avoided, the handbook stated. The use of words such as “ravished” in cases of sexual assault or rape was also red-flagged in the handbook.

The handbook also busted several stereotypes attached to women, such as women being overly emotional and indecisive, unmarried women being incapable of taking decisions and all women wanting to have children.

“This glossary aims to help the Indian judiciary identify and mitigate the use of stereotypes and stereotype-enforcing language against women in their decision,” states the handbook, which has now been uploaded on the Supreme Court website.

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