Women Do Not Want to Be Put On A Pedestal, We Only Want Equal Treatment: Justice BV Nagarathna
What women want is not to be put on a pedestal in society, but equal treatment as their male counterparts, whether it is in the workplace, at home, or on the public street, said Justice BV Nagarathna, Supreme Court judge, who is line to become the first woman chief justice of the country. She said:
“I remembered when I was moving a matter on March 8 in one of the years when I was an advocate, a judge had said, please allow the lady to move the matter first because today is women’s day. My retort was that every day should be women’s day. The spirit of this celebration is not to be restricted to one day in a year; it is for all days to come, 24 by 7, 365 days. What we women are asking is not some kind of a pedestal in society. What we are asking is for equal treatment, and not to be demeaned, whether it is in the workplace, at home, or on public streets.”
Justice Nagarathna was speaking on Wednesday at an event organised by the Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee of the Supreme Court for a belated celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8). Also in attendance were the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, the chairperson of the committee, Justice Hima Kohli and other members of the committee. Among other dignitaries, former Supreme Court judge Indira Banerjee was also present in the audience.
Justice Nagarathna, a member of the gender sensitisation committee, while delivering a vote of thanks, delivered an important message about equality among genders. Notably, she spoke about the need to be tough on sexual harassment in the workplace, since it was not just about the right to safety, but also the right to livelihood. She pointed out that even though the right to equality was a constitutionally consecrated fundamental right, until the landmark judgement in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241, in which the top court issued guidelines and norms for preventing and redressing sexual harassment in the workplace, “women never had a voice with regards to sexual harassment”. The judge also added that women had the top court to thank for this judgement, which paved the way for the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. She further added:
“Many women may not be permitted to work outside because of the prevalence of an unsafe atmosphere at their workplaces. Therefore, it is everyone’s duty, and particularly of the Supreme Court, to ensure that there is safety for women in India.”
“Chivalry is the hallmark of every man in this country, and that is something we must preserve,” Justice Nagarathna also said. In this connection, she cited the example of her own senior, Barrister Vasudev Reddy, who, she recalled, was so courteous that he would let the judge (when she was a junior at his chamber) sit on a chair inside the court while choosing to stand himself.
Finally, the Supreme Court judge said that the goal of gender parity through gender sensitisation was not a one-point agenda, but has several phases and required a multi-pronged approach involving several stakeholders. She concluded by saying, “On this occasion, let us all jointly affirm our commitment towards creating inclusive and gender-sensitive workplaces for women. So that the essence of Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution is preserved and our nation is able to effectively tackle all frontiers of gender equality, not just restricted to what is stated in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.”