While many believe that the Supreme Court is setting us on a path that resembles a near linear social progression, it has also come under scrutiny for its last month’s radical and landmark verdicts concerning women, and dismantling toxic patriarchal social structures. In the last week of September, the Supreme Court repealed two sexist laws consecutively; this was preceded by the court’s decision to scrap Section 377, earlier the same month, legalising same-sex intercourse.
A few weeks after Section 377 verdict, the court repealed Section 497, which dealt with adultery, and the next day, in a 4-1 decision, decided to allow women entry into the Sabarimala temple of Kerala, after a 28-year-long ban.
India’s adultery law was exceedingly sexist towards women and was entirely rooted in patriarchy and the idea of a wife being the possession of her husband; with only married men whose wives would cheat – being the ones able to file a case under the adultery law against men their wives cheated with. Under this law, there was no provision to seek any legal remedy for married women whose husbands would cheat on them. The biggest problem with the law was that it treated a woman like possession of the man she was married to. The law was merely a method for men to assert ownership over their wives and seek legal remedy when they were ‘wronged’ by them, and their egos were shattered in the process.
The court’s decision to repeal the law instead of keeping it the way it is, or extending it to punish women, drew a lot of flak, mostly by people with a false sense of morality who claimed that – without a law in place, marriage would lose its sanctity. They argued that people would become morally corrupt – due to which the country would decline.
The Sabarimala verdict also amassed similar furore, with a lot of people arguing that the verdict is against Hinduism and that the court is attacking Hindus and their faith; mocking the country’s culture at the same time. In response to this, most campaigners of the #ReadyToWait campaign – a campaign by women who claim they will wait until menopause to visit the temple, which allegedly is the deity’s desire – said they would pursue the matter further.
Supreme Court’s decisions lately may not have been in line with the Indian culture, but the court doesn’t have any cultural obligations to adhere with. The apex court isn’t meant to protect the false sense of morality that we collectively hold, and it isn’t supposed to be giving in to our conservative ideas. The only obligations that the Supreme Court needs to keep in mind are – to uphold the rights of every citizen that is guaranteed to them by the Constitution and to protect their lives and the quality of their life by not allowing them to be subjected to discrimination or violence because of their differences. If in doing so the court hurts regressive cultural sentiments fuelled entirely by toxic ideas like sexism and homophobia taking root in patriarchy and other forms of toxicity that we perpetrate and perpetuate, then the Supreme Court is on the right course.
Our sentiments or beliefs do not come above the rights and lives of others. We have no right to assert the importance of our culture and punish every person who doesn’t fit into the mould we chalk up and give the seal of moral approval and cultural sanction. This systematic dismantling of the rights of those who embrace non-conformity, or of those that are considered individuals of lesser value – like women, has been ongoing for centuries, but with these landmark decisions, Supreme Court’s message was clear – a change is finally beginning to manifest.
The adultery and Sabarimala verdicts are of paramount importance to the cause of women; it allows them the autonomy they were denied for years. These verdicts challenge the prevalent and deeply entrenched patriarchal practice of disallowing women to take up public space, keeping it in its entirety for men, and pushing women to the sidelines. It is tragic but extremely unsurprising that these verdicts – that merely uphold the rights of women and assert their independence have caused such furore. We as a society have often regarded the rights and lives of women as having lesser value than our patriarchal notions, we have always executed sexist ideas at the cost of women.
We cannot strip people of their rights for the sake of our baseless beliefs. If our morality comes from dehumanising and shunning menstruating women, if our traditions can only remain intact by men owning their wives, if our culture promotes denying fundamental rights to women, then maybe it’s time we rid ourselves of such morality and traditions. If our culture thrives on shunning and silencing women, then this culture needs to be discarded, not embraced or protected. In these changing times, a change which has been set in motion by SC, our culture needs to evolve and be more accommodating, loving, just, and equal. Otherwise, it never will be worth protecting. The Supreme Court did fulfil its obligations, keeping in mind the principles of justice and equality, and not tradition, popular sentiment, patriarchal beliefs, or culture; because it has no cultural obligations, whatsoever – and due to this, there will be a better future.