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Has The Indian Judiciary Lived Upto The Expectations Of Its Women Citizens?

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Trigger Warning: Mention of sexual violence, casteism.

With a string of strange, insensitive statements and judgements, Indian Criminal Justice Courts have truly baffled us. In recent times, the definition of ‘justice’ and ‘penalty’ has taken a very different meaning clearly reflected by a plethora of cases where the courts seem to be complacent or dare, I say, complicit.

On 14 September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly gang-raped in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh, India, by four upper-caste men. The impunity of authorities in Uttar Pradesh and media crackdowns took the internet by storm, with massive online and offline protests across the country. While activists and celebrities expressed their disillusionment at the horrific incident, former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju’s insensitive statement on Twitter linking rape incidents to unemployment in the country received a huge lash-back on the Internet.

According to the former SC judge, rapes are bound to increase in a nation where unemployment rates are mounting and rapes can conveniently be equated with ‘sex’, a natural urge in men.

An extremely problematic and apathetic statement deeply rooted in impunity, casteism and misogyny by SC Judge M Katju.

Did The Victim And Her Family Ask For Justice Or Justification?

An extremely problematic and apathetic statement deeply rooted in impunity, casteism and misogyny, it attests to the fact that the word of the apex court and its judges cannot be accepted as the Gospel truth. This deeply triggering analysis based on loose facts completely disregarded every individual that has been sexually harassed or raped at school, college, office, factories, even in the apparent ‘safety’ of their own homes.

Is Mr Markandey Katju trying to say that resolving unemployment will automatically erase differentials in power dynamics? Does our esteemed judge not realise his power to influence public opinion and how much his statement reassures men who commit these atrocities? Did the victim and her family ask for justice or justification? Hugely misguiding and insensitive, this tweet reflected many things- the self-righteousness of men in this position, their mindset towards sexism and patriarchy, the lack of women in jurisprudence and in our courts, and their utter disregard for a woman’s dignity.

Shortly after this, Bombay High Court Judge Justice Pushpa Ganediwala  passed a recent order on a case under the POCSO Act that came under scrutiny, acquitting a man of rape charges, stating that it seemed “highly impossible for a single man to gag the victim and remove her and his clothes at the same time without any scuffle.”

“It seems highly impossible for a single man to gag the mouth of the prosecutrix [the victim] and remove her clothes and his clothes and to perform the forcible sexual act, without any scuffle. The medical evidence also does not support the case of the prosecutrix,” the Nagpur Bench observed.

Statements Like These Are The Reason Women Avoid Speaking Up Earlier

The observation was made when Justice Ganediwala was hearing an appeal against the conviction of a 26-year-old man from Yavatmal.

The entire discourse in India pertaining to sexual harassment and rape is already borne of disbelief in the victim and always asks them to seek inwards, or their reality is manipulated and suppressed to an extent where they are not even in a position to explain what happened.

Statements like these are the reason women avoid speaking up earlier, and they act as huge deterrents to women who are gathering the courage to demand justice. The very institution which is supposed to be encouraging people to come forward contributes to silencing them by suggesting that their accusations are “impossible”.

What absolutely ruined the credibility of the Apex court was a most disappointing but unsurprising statement remarked by CJI Bobde in relation to a case where he stayed the arrest of the accused, and asked him whether he would marry the woman who had accused him of raping her when she was a minor.

“If you want to marry, we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail. You seduced the girl, raped her,” Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde reportedly told Chavan’s lawyer, who said that his client could lose his job. An exchange then ensued where CJI Bobde asked Chavan, “Will you marry her?” The Chief Justice also said, “You should have thought before seducing and raping the young girl. You knew you are a government servant.” And also, “We are not forcing you to marry. Let us know if you will. Otherwise, you will say we are forcing you to marry her.”

Is Marriage A License To Rape?

This entire exchange implies marriage as a license to rape. It looks at women not as individuals with dignity and a sense of person and body, but merely as an object, the ‘burden’ of whose ‘maintenance’ must be shifted from one party to another.

Does marriage negate the need for consensual sex in marriage? Contrary to what many of us might believe, CJI Bobde believes it does, as made abundantly clear by him in this statement-

“When two people are living as husband and wife, however brutal the husband is, can the act of sexual intercourse between them be called rape?”

This statement was in response to the massive storm he triggered on social media with his previous statement. Over 3,500 concerned citizens have issued an open letter demanding that he step down from the position and issue an apology for his remarks in court.

These recent judgements and remarks are nothing less than appalling- almost hard to believe. As if it weren’t unsafe enough to be a woman in India, face harassment by the police and ostracization by the community, must women also watch their constitutional rights be ridiculed, taken lightly by the Highest Court in India?

While three of the pillars of our democracy- (executive, legislature and media) are quickly crumbling, many of us had placed our faith in the fourth pillar- the Judiciary. Recent verdicts have however made it evident that the faith was misplaced, and in New India, women must never forget their position as second-class citizens, or worse- merely an object of satisfaction.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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