Changing Societal Values & Prejudice Is A Long Battle: Justice DY Chandrachud At LAWASIA Conference
First day of the LAWASIA Human Rights Conference witnessed a discourse on the developments across the ESCAP region with respect to legal approaches to gender, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and measures to reduce discrimination.
The Chair, Indian Supreme Court judge, Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud noted that despite significant legal gains in the field of gender and sexuality rights, the persisting ubiquity of violations against sexual minorities mandated a relook at the human rights law paradigm.
He further asserted that while decriminalization of homosexuality was an important first step in ensuring the right, changing firmly entrenched societal values and prejudice was an important, and much longer battle. He went on to note that significant progress has been made in reducing discrimination against the community within Asia, which had been significantly led by judicial systems. However, he added that the continuing violence and experiences of marginalization were a grim reminder that social prejudice outlasts changes brought by the law.
He concluded by noting that we must be cynical about the ability of the law by itself to bring about social change and that it was important to foster partnerships to push for the realization of these rights in reality.
Programme Manager, Ondede and independent journalist Ms. Sanasuman gave a powerful account of the challenges faced by the transgender community. According to her, the most troubling aspect was the lack of transgender voices in government and policy-making platforms, and the continued violations of their rights.
She noted that most policies for the trans community were made without consultations with members of the community, and were thus mere "lip service". For instance, she pointed out that the provision for affirmative action for post-graduate positions did not address the problem of high drop-out rates in schools.
She also expressed concern over the proposal in the new Transgender Protection Rights Bill, which was brought in without any community consultation and had a provision to "screen" transgender persons. She concluded that much more needed to be done to push for "inclusivity, not exclusivity".
Mr. Essen Lee, Taiwan Bar Association discussed the struggles for the realization of same-sex marriage rights in Taiwan. He left the audience with the question of whether human rights should be put to a referendum, which would, in effect, subject minorities to the popular beliefs of the majority. He also questioned the principle of "separate but equal," as not being an acceptable principle of human rights jurisprudence.
Ms. Yoiko Ando, Japan Federation of Bar Associations, spoke about the gender gap in Japan, and about the low participation of women in politics. Turning to education, she pointed out that women were most underrepresented in engineering and physical sciences, and were most present in the humanities. She further pointed out that violence against women has been increasing over the years.
Ms. Madhavi Menon, Ashoka University discussed the limitations of using a rights discourse. She explained that although the Supreme Court's ruling reading down Section 377 was a major gain, the usefulness of the language of rights to achieve our emancipatory goals is questionable.
She essentially asserted that rights are, by definition, "exclusionary, hegemonic and morally prudish". She then proposed that the language of non-discrimination be adopted instead, which is not an identity-based language, and is thus, more inclusive in nature.
During this session, chief guest, Attorney General KK Venugopal gave a stirring speech on the advances which have been made in the realm of prisoner's rights, and ended with Nelson Mandela's quote, "No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged as to how it treats its highest citizens but how it treats its lowest ones.".
Chiming in, Conference Chair for India, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan noted that the common element that straddled most of the disparate subjects addressed in the conference was one of dignity and identity, and expressed hope that the conference would enable the audience to think of how we could evolve from "human rights to humane rights".
Mr Christopher Leong, the President, LAWASIA reiterated the significance of the conference, while Additional Solicitor General of India Dr. Pinky Anand focused on gender mainstreaming in her speech. Mr. Prashant Kumar, President-elect of the Bar Association of India presented the vote of thanks.