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Richa Chadda, who plays a female prosecutor arguing a sexual harassment case in Section 375, said recently that gender parity in the legal profession can go a long way in creating a judiciary that is more sensitive to women.
Whenever a woman talks about having been raped or sexually harassed, especially now in the context of #MeToo, she is often attacked for not having reported it or for not taking the person she is accusing to court. It is often taken as ‘proof’ that she is lying or making it up. What the detractors miss is that the legal process can be an added trauma, that the survivor may not want to deal with.
This recent post by Shruti Chaturvedi, Founder of media platform Chaipaani who also shared her experience on Twitter, illustrates exactly how frustrating and humiliating the process can feel. Her post has some excellent suggestions for how the process can be made easier and more sensitive.
Actor Richa Chadda, who plays a female prosecutor arguing on behalf of a survivor in the upcoming movie Section 375, also spoke recently about the need for greater sensitivity when dealing with crimes involving women. In her opinion, gender parity in the legal profession will help to achieve this.
Speaking about the gender imbalance in the legal profession, she said, “The idea is to sensitise one to women crimes (sic) and it will only happen with more gender parity within the workforce as far as lawyers and judges are concerned. The survivor will be in a more comfortable spot and thus gender crimes can be approached from a more lived in space.”
She also expressed her admiration for female lawyers who have made significant contributions, saying, “The gap is a reality for sure but so is the fact that there are such superwoman advocates like Indira Jaising, Pinky Anand, Karuna Nandy, that we are just a step away from taking inspiration from the right people.”
She also pointed out that some steps taken by the government in this regard are commendable, “The government is doing their bit in setting up more Mahila courts which takes up crime cases about women and has women judges at the helm. Such initiatives are surely a step in the right direction.”
Richa’s statement is in line with what women in the legal profession have been saying themselves.
Earlier this year, at a panel discussion organised on the 65thanniversary of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), women lawyers called for greater participation of women and other marginalized sections of society in the legal system. Supreme Court lawyer, Ratna, quoted in the article, points out that there was a lack of transparency in the way the sexual harassment case against the chief justice of India was investigated.
This post on Youth Ki Awaaz, also features multiple women in the justice system who argue for greater representation for women.
One example quoted in the article is of the Suryanelli case in which the Kerala High Court acquitted the accused based on the argument that the minor survivor was a ‘child prostitute’. The case was then heard in the Supreme Court where this verdict was rejected. As the post points out, had there been a woman judge presiding over the case in the Kerala High Court the verdict may have been more empathetic to the survivor.
This 2016 report by The Week, not only highlights the woeful lack of women in the judiciary, but also details the many ways in which existing female lawyers and judges have to face sexism – from being overlooked for promotions, to clients who want male lawyers and judges who comment derogatorily about their attire or appearance.
Richa’s statement is a timely reminder of this issue. She hopes that her role as a female lawyer in Section 375 will make the “profession more appealing for young women lawyers.”
Earlier, speaking about her role in the movie, she said, “I put a lot of myself in the film. When I was building the character, I put a lot of my thoughts in presenting her. My character is a public prosecutor. Practically, public prosecutors don’t earn a lot unless they are at the top of the game. So, why is she so adamant about getting justice in this case? That is where I channelised a lot of righteous anger I feel as an individual in the present situation. I feel angry at the sexism in our film industry, as well as in society. The #MeToo movement was a wakeup call. So I poured a lot of thought on these matters, and into the character.”
While one hopes that Richa’s performance is inspirational, a greater hope is that the number of women in the judiciary does grow, and that the legal process is streamlined to be more sensitive to women.
Image source: YouTube
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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