Another year is coming to an end, a year that brought us many events that are the epitome of women’s empowerment, proving women shall not be deprived of rights and opportunities, discriminated against, or looked down upon.
The first event was on August 2, when the Supreme Court of India held that the women had a right to worship at Sabarimala temple, irrespective of their age. The temple had a century-old tradition: females of menstruating age shall not be allowed to enter and pray in the temple. This was authorised by the Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965. The matter was bought to light by five women lawyers, who said that the rule violated Articles 14, 15 and 17 of the Indian Constitution, before the Kerala High Court, which had so far upheld the tradition. These women then made an appeal in the Supreme Court. The apex court observed that “what applies to a man applies to a woman” as well, and that “once you open [the temple] for public, anyone can go”. The bench also said that a “woman’s right to pray is a Constitutional right”. This gave women the right to worship at any place they wanted, irrespective of age.
On September 5, the Supreme Court of India witnessed a historic event. For the first time in legal history, it had a three-judge bench comprising of only women. Justice R. Banumathi, Justice Indu Malhotra, and Justice Indira Banerjee. Since 1950, only six women have served as Supreme Court judges in India, the first one being M. Fathima Beevi, appointed in the year 1989.
The appointment of Justice Indu Malhotra in itself has been historic. She is the first women lawyer to be elevated to the top judiciary directly from the bar. In 2007, she was given the designation of senior advocate by the apex court making her the second woman in Indian history to get this tag, the first being Justice Leila Seth in 1977.
The event proves that no matter the number of schemes to empower women, it took a long time for the first women-only three-judge bench to be constituted in the Supreme Court in 68 years of its history.
On September 27, the Supreme Court decriminalised Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with adultery. The section expressed a degrading view of women as wives being the property of their husbands. It gave a husband the right to sue his wife’s extra-marital partner, but didn’t gave the same right to a wife. The section was a man-to-man matter, meaning that a man could hold guilty another man with whom his wife had an affair, while taking no action under the section towards the wife for her actions. The basis of this was that if anyone else other than the husband himself uses his wife, that third person shall be liable for theft of property. Hence, punished. The law has been challenged before the Supreme Court thrice before. Each time the petition was dismissed. But in 2018, the Supreme Court observed Section 497 as anti-woman and dismissed the argument that the adultery law discriminated against men. Adultery remains a ground for divorce under various personal/customary laws, giving an equal right to the male and female to seek divorce. The scrapping of this section has granted dignity to women.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I hope we witness more such events in the coming year, and that it be merry for each one of us.