Old patriarchal norms have been compounded by our modern media which objectifies and renders women as sexual toys consumers. The end result is then what we have before us, a worryingly gender insensitive generation. With the likes of Justice Bhaktavatsala at the High Courts of it.
In a so-called attempt to save a violent marriage for the ‘sake of the children‘, an old man told a young woman across the bench, “Women suffer in all marriages. You are married with two children, and know what it means to suffer as a woman. Yesterday, there was a techie couple that reconciled for the sake of their child. Your husband is doing good business; he will take care of you.”
Did this scenario outrage you? A quick survey with a maid, teashop owner, taxi driver, hospital guard, traffic policeman and a sports teacher proved my hypothesis – No. I did not include professors, activists or politicians in my sample poll as is normally the custom because I am of the view that every man has a distinct and wise perspective to offer and not just public intellectuals.
But when the judge of a High Court makes such comments, in the so-called interest and delivery of justice, it’s a very different story. A generation of activists has spent their lives dedicated to enacting laws like the Domestic Violence Act 2005 and the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act 1956. These laws were created with a vision of breaking away from our primitive patriarchal chains, to create a gender-just and equitable society; for an India where women would no longer be exploited.
Now that these laws are on the statute books, it is the duty of the judiciary to guarantee that they are being upheld and enforced. In my humble opinion, Justice K Bhakthavatsala’s comments have no place in our nation’s courts. This form of judicial commentary is, in a sense, a dangerous weapon being used by an old and parochial old man trying to turn back the progressive clock of women’s rights.
I work for an NGO as a Gender Trainer and have led many gender sensitization training sessions. Our sessions have been diverse in terms of audience and have ranged from high level police officials, members of the Judiciary and corporate CEOs to college and school students and copper craftsmen. As a trainer and silent observer in each of these sessions, I won’t deny it, there have defintiely been times when I have felt that many participants deserve to be shipped off to a lonely island to serve the rest of their days alone given their inappropriate views on women.
Let me illustrate with the example of our third training day on the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act 1956. Right after a session where a 16-year-old trafficked victim had just shared with us her torturous experiences, which had left all of us extremely shocked, one of the male participants asked us during the Q&A, “But what about the sexual desires of men?”
Indeed, old patriarchal norms have been compounded by our modern media outlets which objectify and render women as sexual toys for male viewers and consumers. The end result is then what we have before us, a worryingly gender insensitive generation.
Was the Justice’s comment right? No. Should he remain a judge? Certainly not. Does the majority think like him? Sadly, yes. However, are there any options in our handling of such a member of the bench? Transferring him to a criminal court is not the solution as I don’t even want to imagine his foreseeable treatment of a rape victim. I have witnessed rape victims having to stand three feet apart from their accused in court while lawyers point to their bodies to ask which piece of clothing was torn off first. For all those who shake their heads, I implore you to visit the second floor of the Saket Court in New Delhi. If anything, our public right of access to our nation’s courts is something to be taken advantage of.
We need to have a zero tolerance attitude towards such opinions and people, whether in the private or public sphere. To begin with, Justice K Bhakthavatsala should be fired, preferably without pension, and disbarred from being a part of any legal proceeding or institution in the future. Yes it may seem like an overtly harsh imposition on an old man but if we do not take an aggressive public policy stance against such opinions and individuals, we will never be able to bring about the change we seek to make.
Let us send out a clear and unequivocal message that we started the process by putting our values with regards to gender equality down on paper and onto the law for all to see. Now is the time to ensure that these words are implemented and followed without exception. Indeed, we will only improve the situation by setting good examples. Judges have a very important role in nation-building and social change. Men like K Bhakthavatsala are therefore not fit to serve office.
Our laws are clear when it comes to right and wrong and as such we should not tolerate members of the judiciary who pull the wool over our eyes in an attempt to fool us with shades of grey.
Excerpts from Justice Bhaktavatsala’s sane advice in court:
“Family matters should be argued only by married people, not spinsters. You should only watch. Bachelors and spinsters watching family court proceedings will start thinking if there is any need to marry at all.”
“Marriage is not like a public transport system. You better get married and you will get very good experience to argue such cases.”
“Women suffer in all marriages. You are married with two children, and know what it means to suffer as a woman.”
“Parents should choose a boy for women below the age of 21, as it is they who bear the brunt of an unsuccessful marriage.”