Protest Against Regressive Statements On Women sign now

Hon'ble Justice Mr. S.R.Nayak, Chairperson - Karnataka State Human Rights Commission, delivered his opinion on the Mumbai New Year molestation case on the occasion of speaking on "Human Rights and Lawyers Role" on 8th February 2008 in Bangalore. He expressly mentioned that "Yes, Men are bad", "But who asked them (the women) to venture out in the night". He concluded by stating that "Women should not have gone out in the night and when they do, there is no point in complaining that men touched then and hit them. Youth are destroying our culture for momentary satisfaction". (As reported in The New Indian Express, 09 February 2008)

At a separate occasion on the same day the Hon'ble Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court Mr. Cyriac Joseph was delivering a speech on the topic "Supreme Court on Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955" (Sec 13 deals with divorce in India). He reportedly urged women to dress "modestly" for the "safety and security of the people". He further elaborated his stand by saying "Nowadays, women wear such kind of dresses even in temples and churches that when we go to places of worship, instead of meditating on God, we end up meditating on the person before us." As reported in The Hindu, 09 February 2008 (http://www.hindu.com/2008/02/09/stories/2008020959100600.htm), he proceeded to argue that the '"provocative dresses that women wear in buses" put the "men travelling in the buses" in awkward situations and hence "women must dress modestly."'

India is a country with despairing statistics relating to women. While the process of women asserting their equal status in society is increasingly gaining support, there are still major challenges indicated by the falling sex ratio of the country. Dr.Amartya Sen's assessment during the 1980s estimated that at least 100 million women worldwide were "missing" due to family neglect and discrimination. Recent estimates for India reveal that there are at least 50 million women missing.

Perpetrators of the patriarchal system who subjugate women employing brute force and economics have ensured that in an era of flourishing radical notions of freedom and rights based approaches - gender based crimes in the country continue to rise alarmingly.

It begins with the undefined and often difficult to assess crimes relating to a woman's modesty. For the simple reason of being unable to prove themselves and the very reality of their experience- most cases of molestation go unreported. The issue begins with silence and becomes further shrouded by shame and guilt. This is the beginning of the continuum of injustice and social malaise that heinous crimes such as infanticides, dowry deaths, etc. are stoked on.

These regressive and unwarranted statements maligning women for being provocative and the reason behind their own doom can be termed a classic expression of an oppressive patriarchally structured society. What is tremendously shocking about these unjustifiable statements made by the Chief Justice and the Chairperson of SHRC is that they were made by two eminent members of the Judiciary whose utterances have profound impact on society and its ways. Such remarks agitate against their stated professional obligations to uphold the Constitutional Preamble: "Justice - Social, economic, political, and equality; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all, Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation."

Article 19 (1) (a) gives the citizens of India the Right to the Freedom of Speech and Expression. In a country which holds a multitude of cultures, dress is a well recognised form of expressing identity. Article 15 of the Constitution recognizes the weaker status of women in the Indian society and provides for positive discrimination in clause 15 (3) asserting that "Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children". The Article 51 A (e) -Fundamental Duties also states that "It shall be the duty of every citizen of India - (e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practice derogatory to the dignity of women".

In light of such strong provisions in the Constitution addressing the cause of individual freedom and vulnerability of women in a patriarchal society, it is a matter of deep concern that those who must uphold the spirit and letter of such provisions in law have tragically conceded ground and fueled such beliefs which have been responsible for weakening the status of women in India.

It pains to note that those who must be the custodians of law have engaged in such rhetoric that legitimizes a regressive and oppressive system against women. Rather than stepping in to support victims of abuse, these statements by Hon'ble members of the Judiciary have perpetuated widely held tendencies heaping insult and injury on the victims of gender violence. As those concerned by the trivialization of women's status we come together to protest against such statements by people in positions of authority and influence, and question why they are not accountable.

Revolted by such statements, we demand a public apology by both members of premiere institutions of law in light of their aforementioned statements which we strongly condemn. This is the least we can expect so that the process of healing can begin and that victims of abuse can gain confidence in approaching institutions of justice delivery.

If these Hon'ble Members of Judiciary truly respect their status in society and their professional obligations, we expect them to step down from their positions. Such an act would strengthen the movement for women to hold their head high and walk during day and night without fear.

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Arline DonaldsonBy:
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Hon'ble Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, India and Hon'ble Chief Justice of India

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