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The year 2018 has seen many historic judgments and decisions that will pave the way for equality in Indian society. As we near the end of the year, here’s a look at these historic decisions.
Women and people from marginalised communities have faced discrimination in the form of deep-rooted patriarchy, as well as centuries old laws that needed revamp or even complete revoking. 2018 has birthed a few jaw dropping judgments that shook the privileged patriarchal society, and moved women and minorities closer to the land of the free.
Some of the archaic laws had barred women and minorities from exercising their rights, colliding with the fundamental rights, which can’t be taken away by any other law. These discrepancies were addressed in the recent judgments, opening more arguments about other patriarchal and archaic laws, and giving hope to women, and to the marginalised communities that their freedom and rights can be restored.
Here are the four major changes/judgments that paved the way for equality.
Criminalizing consensual private sexual acts between adults, that included homosexuality, came into force in 1862 under the colonial British Rule. Section 377 of the IPC refers to homosexuality as an unnatural offence, bringing the LGBT community into an umbrella that criminalizes non-consensual acts, pedophilia, etc., for which the punishment would be imprisonment of life, or an imprisonment term that may extend up to 10 years, and also made them liable to pay a fine.
After 147 years, the Delhi High Court read a ruling in 2009 that decriminalised homosexuality while retaining non-consensual sexual acts and sexual acts by adults with minors under the ambit of Section 377. However, the Supreme Court upheld the criminalisation of gay sex by setting aside the judgment by the Delhi High Court in 2013.
A constitution bench led Chief Justice Dipak Mishra re-opened the issue in July 2018, and in September 2018, gay sex was decriminalised. This was boosted by the upholding of The Right To Privacy Act as a Fundamental Right by The Supreme Court in August 2017, which considers the act as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.
Section 497, widely termed as the Adultery Law, punishes a man for having consensual sexual intercourse with a married woman, without the consent of her husband. This law also prevents women from being punished for adultery, and also doesn’t allow a woman to file a complaint against an adulterous husband. This law discriminated both women and men, by treating men as masters, and by punishing the male adulterer, but not the married women.
This law was challenged multiple times in 1954, 1985, and 1988 but these pleas were rejected by the Supreme court. A petition was submitted to the Supreme Court again in August 2018, challenging this 158 year old law written in the British colonial era. This law got struck down in September 2018 by the Supreme Court of India which called the law archaic, arbitrary, and unconstitutional, as it treated women like objects owned by their husbands. Squashing this section of the IPC would made consensual sex between adults not a criminal offense, and meant that women were no longer a property of men before the law.
Triple talaq is an instant and irrevocable form of Islamic divorce which allows a man to divorce his wife by stating the word ‘talaq’ in oral, written, or electronic format. A Bill that would make practicing instant talaq a penal offence was introduced on December 2018, which would void the tala (divorce). The issue came into light with many instances of instant talaqs given on filmsy grounds by the husbands. The government cited that 430 such incidents of talaqs came to their notice.
However, many sections of the Muslim community while welcoming a ban on triple talaq, are apprehensive about the criminalisation of the act. The proposed law makes talaq a non-bailable offence, and would be applicable only to instant Triple Talaq, with the punishment for practicing instant triple talaq being a jail-term of 3 years.
From 1991, women aged between 10 and 50 were legally banned from entering Sabarimala, a Hindu temple located in Kerala. This ban which violates the right to equality and the freedom of religion was overturned in September 2018, re-allowing the entry of women pilgrims of menstruating age.
The petition to lift the ban was submitted in 2006, but it took over a decade for the Supreme Court to pass the historic judgment. CJI Dipak Mishra said while reading the judgment that a woman is not lesser or inferior to a man and that patriarchy of religion cannot be permitted to trump over faith.
Several protests erupted across the country against the lifting of the ban, and several women were stopped from entering Sabarimala due to angry protestors assaulting the women. However, we could expect more women to enter the shrine in the future, such as the 30 women devotees from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, who said that they’ll enter the shrine no matter what. The state’s Chief Minister has also been rational about the verdict supporting the lifting of the ban.
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