Legal glossary of inappropriate gendered terms to be out soon: CJI

By, New Delhi
Mar 17, 2023 12:39 PM IST

The CJI was speaking at an event of Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee of the Supreme Court to celebrate International Women’s Day.

The Indian judiciary will soon have an official glossary guiding judges against the use of inappropriate gendered terms in legal discourse, Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud announced, emphasising that there must be zero tolerance for delinquent behaviour and improper language targeting women.

CJI Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud (Hindustan Times)
CJI Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud (Hindustan Times)

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Speaking on Wednesday at an event organised by the Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee of the Supreme Court to celebrate International Women’s Day, the CJI unveiled the ongoing exercise of creating a list of words and terms that judges in the country must refrain from using not only in their judgments but in all proceedings before the courts.

Justice Chandrachud said that this was a mission he undertook a few years ago that is finally nearing fruition now, expressing the hope that the glossary would point to how women are discriminated against not just in society and the legal profession, but also in the language employed in legal discourse.

“For instance, I have come across judgments which have referred to a woman as a ‘concubine’ when she is in a relationship. Women have been called thieves in judgements where there were applications for quashing of FIRs under the Domestic Violence Act and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code,” he pointed out.

The CJI underlined that the chief objective behind creating the glossary was to facilitate an understanding of the problems within the mind -- preconceived notions and biases.

“Unless we are open about these facets, it will be difficult for us to evolve as a society... This glossary is nearing completion and will be unveiled in the very near future,” he added.

The legal glossary, justice Chandrachud said, was being prepared by a committee chaired by Calcutta high court judge Moushumi Bhattacharya that included former high court judges Gita Mittal and Prabha Sridevan, and Professor Jhuma Sen, who is currently an adjunct faculty member at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata.

The chairperson of the SC Gender Sensitisation committee, justice Hima Kohli and other members, including justice BV Nagarathna, were also present at the event.

The CJI, in his address, rued that one of the problems in the profession was the harassment of women and inappropriate behaviour towards them, and that he has heard “ghastly” stories involving young, women lawyers.

“Even if part of those stories that I was told are believable, and I see no reason not to believe them because I think every one of them has a germ of trust... we need to ensure that there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour towards women, use of inappropriate language in relation to women, even on cracking inappropriate jokes in the presence of women,” he asserted.

Talking about gender diversity in the legal profession, the CJI remained sanguine that an increase in number of women lawyers and judicial officer assures of a greater role for them in future. “This holds great promise for the future because these women who are entering into the workspace today are going to define the values, the traditions, and the aspirations for the present and the future,” the judge stressed while citing the latest statistics from district judiciary where, he said, over 50% of judicial officers are women.

At the same time, the CJI emphasised that all the stakeholders must collaborate to ascertain that law becomes an equal opportunity profession and not merely a tool to allow an equal opportunity workspace.

“There are states where colleagues say that it is impossible to find a woman lawyer who can be appointed as a judge of the high court. If that is reality, then the blame must lie on us for not being able to create conditions allowing women to flourish in the legal profession and join the higher judiciary. Therefore, a large degree of responsibility must lie on us today to create conditions in which women can practice on an equal platform as men, and therefore, be recognised as equal contributors,” he said.

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It was the ‘bounden duty’ of lawyers and judges alike to collaborate in transforming the legal profession into an equal opportunity one, said justice Chandrachud.

As of March 1, the Supreme Court had three women judges out of its sanctioned strength of 34. According to the data available with the Union law ministry, 25 high courts currently have 104 women judges. The sanctioned strength of judges across 25 high courts in India is 1,114. Of these, 333 posts (more than 29% of the total strength) were vacant as of March 1.

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