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Gender bender

india Updated: Oct 28, 2010 21:24 IST

The Supreme Court ruling on 'live-in' partners and maintenance has raised an extremely pertinent issue — the use of the word 'keep' to identify the woman live-in partner.

I completely agree with Indira Jaisingh, the additional solicitor general, that the turn of phrase is most unfortunate. It is derogatory because it relegates a woman to 'property' level. How can we allow men to 'keep' women? Animals are kept as pets. Are women in the same category? Keep-sakes? Where is the right to live with dignity, enshrined in our Constitution and in the hitherto dynamic judgements of the apex court?

Our Constitution guarantees, among other fundamental rights, gender equality. In fact, the Constitution goes beyond and has Article 15(3) which affirms positive discrimination in favour of women. In today's world, where many women are live-in partners by choice, are financially independent, have careers of their own (earning their keep) does it not sound archaic, unfair and inappropriate to keep to a belittling term?

Some may argue that it is a part of 'reality' to face facts and use 'contemporary' phrases, that the court is only reflecting societal norms. But is it in keeping with the times?

It's time to change such unwelcome usage of words and create genuine gender equality, rather than the superficial kind where we pay lip-service to women's rights.

Consider the situation in a live-in male-female relationship where the woman is the 'bread-winner' (to use another out-dated term). Will her partner be known as 'kept'? It's ironic that in India, we have a paradoxical social set-up, where on the one hand, women continue to be worshipped as goddesses, elected to the highest constitutional posts, make it to top corporate positions, but horrifically, are also burnt for dowry and still called 'keeps'.

For equality's sake, let us say: A woman is known by the company she keeps.

Mina Anand is a Chennai-based lawyer. The views expressed by the author are personal.