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Indira Jaising Pens Open Letter to CJI Against Sexist Language in Courts

Recently in the Supreme Court, the senior advocate had slammed Attorney General KK Venugopal for referring to her as the "wife" of a lawyer.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising has penned an open letter on Saturday, March 9 to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, calling upon him to eliminate sexist language in India courts.

Jaising’s letter has come a few days after she had slammed Attorney General KK Venugopal for referring to her as “wife” of advocate Anand Grover during proceedings in the Supreme Court. Jaising had reminded Venugopal that she is a “person in her own right” and that he should withdraw the remark, NDTV had reported.

In her letter to the CJI, the senior lawyer writes, “The profession of advocacy relies heavily on the power of language, its interpretation, and its socio-political baggage. Language is our weapon and shield, we agitate with our words, and we seek protection in our guaranteed rights.”

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She quotes Deborah Cameron who had said“Sexist language teaches us what those who use it and disseminate it think women’s place ought to be:  second-class citizens, neither seen nor heard, eternal sex-objects and personifications of evil.”

Jaising writes, “In this way, sexist language is violent.”

She writes about her own experiences, “In my years at the Bar, there have been multiple incidents where sexist remarks being made by lawyers go unnoticed by the Bench. Such tacit acceptance of sexist language in the courtroom and brushing it aside as “didn’t mean any harm”, gives it a level of legitimacy, and judges fail in their duty to protect the fundamental right enshrined under Article 15 if they don’t disapprove of and call out sexist language, remarks, or comments made in their courtroom.”

Attorney General KK Venugopal

Jaising adds, “Recently, I was referred as a “wife”, rather than by my name or as Counsel, by a senior male lawyer in the courtroom, although immediate corrective action was taken by him upon my protest. It was left to counsel to point out that this was a sexist remark. The judge did not protest. In another event, a lawyer remarked to  a fellow panellist on a national television debate that “if you are afraid, go wear petticoats and bangles.””

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Her letter is relatable for almost all women lawyers and even working women in general when she says, ” On other occasions, I have been called “shrill” while my male colleagues are valorized for being totally aggressive in the court. These things hurt immensely. I have already gone on record to say I have been sexually harassed in the corridors of the Supreme Court of India, notwithstanding my grey hair and notwithstanding that the corridors are under CCTV surveillance.”

CJI Ranjan Gogoi (Photo: Twitter)

She has made some recommendations in her letter. ”

“I have taken the liberty to make a few suggestions and I hope you will consider them.

  • The judiciary under the guidance of the Chief Justice of India takes the lead and sets up a Commission of Enquiry to do a gender audit of courtroom culture, discriminatory behaviour, availability of infrastructure such as crèche and toilets to ensure the right to work with dignity and safety and security of women at the Bar.
  • Organize a fact-finding committee to document judgments and judicial documents that contain sexist remarks, to understand the gravity of violence meted out through these judgments, and ensure that these words and phrases are barred from being used in the judicial language by judges and by lawyers
  • Make active efforts to learn if an advocate being appointed to a senior leadership position, or a judge being promoted has condoned sexist behaviour or indulged in it inside the courtrooms or in public life. Such person should not be given the position of a role model or a leader.
  • Issue a circular or practice directions to judges across the country to check the usage of sexist language by lawyers, litigants, and others in their courtrooms.”

You can read the full letter here.

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