By Priya Ravichandran
The Telegraph carried an opinion piece on the popularity of recently established women only courts in Mumbai and Bengal with demands to expand them to districts in Maharashtra. The courts with women judges, prosecutors, desk clerks, peons are rooted in the idea that women especially victims of harassment or rape might feel more comfortable talking about the ordeal in a less intimidating environment. The courts have so far, in the Mumbai area been successful, with judges being swift in delivering verdicts on complicated issues that include workplace and marital harassment. The idea of having a woman only court or at least a woman judge at the helm might go a long way in ensuring women litigants feel more at ease within what has traditionally been seen as a male bastion. Having women only courts though is not a viable long term alternative to equal access to justice in the country. We have to be aware that this current system is but a necessity of the times that we live in and separate but equal justice is not a solution. Women only court should be a stop gap alternative, until the Indian public institutions and public officials can make gender equality and equal citizenship a norm.
There are a few things that have to happen to ensure the success of these women courts and also to ensure that gradual phasing out of separate but equal laws.
Universities, public institutions should be made available to everyone. There is an aspect of benevolent sexism that dictates some of these places to be too ‘rough’ or too harsh for women. The dominance of men in certain fields like law and the continued perception of law schools and courts being highly sexist environments deter many girls from joining and succeeding in these universities. Gender education, educating people on sexual harassment laws, ensuring these are applied strictly and sensitising professors and students will automatically take care of bringing in a relatively equal sex ratio in schools, public institutions and the issue of availability of women judges and prosecutors.
Gender Sensitisation must be made mandatory starting from schools. Colleges, universities and public institutions must have regular refresher courses on gender sensitivity. Both men and women have to understand the implications, minutiae of what constitutes a sexist remark, benevolent sexism and explicit sidelining of women from certain parts of the institution and its process. The consequences of gender insensitive remarks have to be high and have to be strictly enforced. Sexual harassment laws, in private or public institutions have to be made available to all the staff. Politicians or higher officers should not be allowed to get away with name calling or making remarks that show women in a poor light or discriminate against the gender.
Reservations should not be seen as the solution to all societal problems, especially gender issues. Citizenship is not a privilege. Seeing reservation as the solution for women implies that they are being doled out favours by the more privileged so they can feel as though they are part of the process too. Equal citizenship means just that. Women should be able take an equal part without being relegated to glass houses.
A harassed or raped woman who was waiting for a “women only” bus after her work her in a “women only” bank should not have to search for a woman police in a “women only” police station and be subjected to women doctors in “women only” hospitals and then wander the corridors of a “women only” courts to live in India.
Priya Ravichandran is Programme Officer for the GCPP programme at the Takshashila Institution.