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Your use of ‘keep,’ ‘one-night stand’ sexist,derogatory: ASG to Supreme Court judge

The first woman Additional Solicitor General of India,Indira Jaising.

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi | October 23, 2010 2:10:06 am

The first woman Additional Solicitor General of India,Indira Jaising,took on a Supreme Court Bench in open court today for what she called was its “male chauvinist and derogatory” language against Indian women in its judgment delivered yesterday on the legal status of live-in relationships.

The bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice T S Thakur had yesterday delivered its judgment in which the judges used the term “keep” to describe the status of a woman whom a man “maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant”.

The judgment,written by Justice Katju,specifically used the expression “keep” in tandem with other ones like “one-night stands” and “merely spending weekends together” to illustrate that women involved in such relationships are exempted from claiming benefits of maintenance under the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act,2005,in case her partner abandons her.

The court had said only those live-in relationships in which the couples concerned appear to be spouses for the public qualify to come under the ambit of the expression “relationships in the nature of marriage” listed in the 2005 Act as worthy of maintenance.

Incidentally,it was Jaising who drafted the 2005 Act.

The exchange between Jaising and the Bench occurred this morning at Court no 6 of the Supreme Court when Justice Katju in open court referred to Jaising,present in the courtroom for another case,as the architect of the statute in question.

“I am very proud of it (drafting the 2005 Act). I was the one who coined the expression ‘relationships in the nature of marriage’ in the draft. But Your Lordships have used the expression ‘keep’ for Indian women and it translates into the Hindi term rakhel ,which is highly derogatory of women and totally betrays a male chauvinist attitude. In the 21st Century,the Supreme Court of India is not supposed to use expressions like this,” Jaising narrated to The Indian Express what she told the Bench.

“Other expressions you have used in the judgment like ‘one-night stand’ will not be found in Mills and Boon (genre of romance novels). There is no legal concept of one-night stand. Which law defines a one-night stand?” she asked the court.

It was at this point,according to Jaising,Justice Thakur intervened with a question as to if not “keep” could the court have aptly used the expression “concubine”.

The ASG criticised the fact that the Supreme Court used Wikipedia as its source to draft the four conditions — especially the one that the couple should have during their relationship “held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time” — women are required to prove with evidence to claim maintenance.

“The Supreme Court uses Wikipedia as it source… Even students do not use Wikipedia,” Jaising told The Indian Express.

“I am concerned about the image of the Supreme Court of India,which is known for its sensitivity to women as you can see in its Vishaka (sexual harassment of women in workplace) judgment. I am a member of the international body ‘Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’,which fights to get rid of discriminating language and stereotypes against women. I fear the remarks in the judgment may put the clock back as it is not in a legal language befitting the Supreme Court,” she said in favour of expunging the remarks in the judgment.

Justice Katju’s judgment comes even as another Supreme Court Bench has on October 7,2010 already sent a referral to the Chief Justice of India to form a larger Bench to decide whether women in unmarried relationships are eligible to maintenance under Section 125 CrPC.

“We are of the opinion that a broad and expansive interpretation should be given to the term ‘wife’ to include even those cases where a man and woman have been living together as husband and wife for a reasonably long period of time,” the earlier Bench had observed in its October 7 judgment in the case Chanmuniya Vs Virender Kumar Singh Kushwaha & Another.

“Yesterday’s judgment does not refer to the October 7 order at all,” Jaising said.

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