Handbook by Supreme Court for Gender Stereotyping

Usage of Apt Language

Author : Dr Shalini Yadav

Writer, Editor & Professor


Gender-Just Handbook launched by Supreme Court recently is a significantly desirable step henceforth we have numberless cases of unjust, harassment and crime against women on daily basis whole over the country. Minding the language by Lawyers and Judges in the courts with an objective to provide justice to the sufferers without hurting sentiments or being gender-biased has been a call of the time and the decision ipso facto is righteous in the direction by SC with the release of such handbook challenging stereotypes in the country.

A committee of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya from Calcutta High Court with Pratibha Singh from Delhi HC and Professor Jhuma Sen has prepared the draft. It discusses the issues of gender fluidity, incorporating terms championed by LGBTQIA+ community. Chief Justice of India, D. Y. Chandrachud guided the committee and edited the draft; consequently, the handbook took two years to be prepared with assiduousness and reflection involving experts and stakeholders.  

Women being vital in every phase of life of a man, also requires due respect in context of using language either it’s in public sphere or the soil of a court. Keeping that in mind, with numerous examples of using foul words by lawyers and judges in the court, the inappropriate and disrespectful language was supposed be at halt ages before. Though late, yet taking into consideration, such practical instances of words and phrases used by lawyers and judges for discourse in the court, this 30 pages ‘Handbook for Combating Gender Stereotypes’ has been designed and such words, which are objectionable, are suggested to replace by substitutes targeting to keep free the judiciary and the legal community from the power-driven handling of gender-stereotypical lexis in the context of judgments, orders, and court pleadings.

Language is the mirror of a society and it has to be used righteously for the welfare of one and all. It reflects the difference and dominance of gender as femininity and masculinity, which are regulated and well thought-out in an opposite binary making one powerful and other submissive, which has been playing a vital role in every amphitheater, even in the milieu of the courts for attaining justice. 

The foreword of the handbook highlights: “Even when the use of stereotyped language does not alter the outcome of a case, stereotyped language can reinforce views contrary to our constitutional ethos. Language is important to the life of law. Words are the means through which the values ​​of law are communicated. Words convey the ultimate intention of the lawmaker or judge to the nation.

However, the language a judge uses reflects not only his interpretation of the law, but also his perception of society. Where the language of judicial discourse reflects archaic or misogynistic views about women, it impedes the law and the transformative project of the Constitution of India, which seeks to secure equal rights for all individuals, regardless of gender.”

The glossary has been typically used from decades to be changed for the progress of one and all promoting equality. Gender-biased old-fashioned and antediluvian terminology, which hurts the sentiments of a specific gender, is a hindrance in the holistic growth of that community or nation. The alternatives provided are less harmful for the concerned groups.

‘Career Women’, ‘Good/Bad Wife’, ‘fallen women’, ‘faithful or obedient wife’, ‘spinster’, ‘eve-teasing’, ‘hermaphrodite’ and many more such phrases have been identified by the Supreme Court as gender-unjust terms not to be used in Indian courts but unfortunately are too common and in practice. The handbook has provided suitable terminology for apropos usage such as ‘woman’, ‘wife’, ‘street sexual harassment’, ‘intersex’ etc. These alternative phrases discard the dominance that is deeply rooted and promotes evenhandedness.

The improper rulebooks and conventions about the mannerisms and behaviors of women, social taboos and stereotypes about gender roles and responsibilities assigned to men and women in Indian society may divert the cases of sexual violence, rape and domestic violence.

Chief Justice of India, Chandrachud said that it would be helpful in the journey of achieving justice and would assist in steps taken towards fulfilling the dream of an equitable society. He further said that it is important that judges and lawyers dodge trusting on gender unjust terminology for making decisions and providing justice to the citizens. They also need to actively challenge and motivate others to discard such usage of stereotypical words and phrases in courts hence it can distort and mislead in the right application of law for fairness.

Being perceptive and judicious, CJI Chandrachud said that judges and lawyers should not take it personally and accept it wholeheartedly for the honest decisions in the courts. It is not intended to criticize the works done by the legal community so far in the country for the harmony and peace, moreover, exerted to provide justice utmost. In addition, it would assist in legal discourses related to women with more efficiency without hurting sentiments and without altering the judgment.

The handbook highlights that by determinedly thwarting the practice of prejudiced language usage in decision-making, the power play and showcase of dominance and assurance of inequality and promotion of pigeonholing, the judiciary will be able to substitute an ecosystem where gender-equality is revered and advocated.

Gender-unjust scripts are unacceptable in the digital age and the handbook is optimistically to do the right thing at the right time in a democratic country for sustaining democracy in true sense. 

Nowadays folks use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn etc. for interaction or sharing their ideas with people of different geographical locales and cultures, gender, tastes, religion, ethnicity etc. Even people solicit justice, initiate campaigns and do marches in cases of sexual violence through social media, thus, the handbook would be highly useful for knowing and using appropriate language, encouraging democratic participation, discarding the outdated lexis and connecting all far and wide for impartial verdicts, specifically in context of legal affairs and in general for all discourses and situations. (The author has his own study and views)