Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court said on Thursday he supported the #MeToo movement that has taken the social media in India by storm over the last week with women, largely from the media, film and entertainment industry, making disclosures about sexual harassment and named their tormentors on social media.
Steering clear of individual cases, Justice Patel said, “I fully support women who are coming out and have the courage to speak because it takes lot of courage to speak at any time.”
Justice Patel said that no woman in the #MeToo movement is demanding that her offender be hanged, “She is saying please test my accusations but do it in a way that works”. Justice Patel added, “Why women have not come forward is a very serious problem and the reason is that because our world is so patriarchal and so biased that it does not allow our women to speak freely at times when they should or they could. We now need to have a discussion on how we are going to get rid of this completely damaged, mocked system that we have of judging this cause and come up with complete gender neutrality…taking #MeToo accusation and testing it while preserving the dignity, self-respect of the woman making that accusations.” Justice Patel was speaking on the subject of ‘Cracking the glass ceiling’ at an event organised by the Indian Merchants Chamber Ladies Wing on Thursday evening.
Justice Patel said that there are allegations made against people who are in tremendous power. He cited the case of American actor and comedian Bill Cosby, who was convicted last month in a case of sexual assault that took place 14 years ago, and said that in his case evidence was gathered and he was tried for the offence.
Justice Patel said, “Women lawyers are told often by white-haired gents in black who presumably, on account of their silvery locks, should know better that they should stay at home and mind their… they are told that a woman lawyer who is fierce in the defence or prosecution of a client’s cause is shrewish but when a male lawyer does exactly the same thing in exactly the same way and says exactly the same words, he is to be much admired for his… grit. That a woman in trial court or arbitration should be mocked and derided, constantly interrupted, met with long theatrical, weary growls but when a male lawyer is introduced to lead her, the same opposition retreats into a silence.”
He added, “This incessant bullying of women, no matter how competent they are is because they are women and this is the archetypal, nauseating patriarchy of our legal profession. It is not discussed, it happens everywhere.”
Justice Patel said, “If I find a male lawyer trying to intimidate a female lawyer, I must never allow that to happen…the effort must be to strive towards gender neutrality.”
According to him, there should be no reservation in the judiciary just as there should be no reservation in our armed forces. He said that when he looks at a judgment he looks at it in a way that a judgment is given by a judge from a Bombay High Court and not as a judgment given by a female judge or male judge. Justice Patel also said that Bombay High Court needs more judges. By December 2019, 11 judges will retire and there are only four names finalised by now. “We are going to be in lot of trouble,” said Justice Patel, adding that the burden on the judges is going to increase.
On the recent judgment by the Supreme Court on Sabarimala, Justice Patel, remarking on the dissent of Justice Indu Malhotra, said that she was utterly and totally gender neutral. “…the fact of her own gender played no role at all in the shaking of her dissent that to my mind is the finest tradition of judging. Her dissent was not her judgment by a woman judge it was dissent by a fine judge.”