India: Supreme Court Rules Rape Cases Must Have Female Judges

The report below raises a number of questions about both the circulation of unconfirmed news and the means of ensuring gender justice in the judicial system.
Indian networkers have been unable to confirm the news - it is certainly not a 'reported case' - i.e. one whose full judgement has appeared in legal digests or whose judgement has otherwise been published and circulated. One networker suggests it was a misreported 'obiter dicta' (an aside by the judge which does not form part of the actual judgement) taken out of context.
Meanwhile, networkers agree that ensuring justice for women who are subjected to violence depends upon appropriate training and the attitude of the judiciary and not their gender.

Women's Research & Action Group in Mumbai has commented:

"We don't feel this judgment would be beneficial to women at all, as it would only lead to an increased ghettoisation of women judges. At present, in Mumbai, women police constables have already been ghettoised to a large extent and are mainly given duties relating to search of women, accompanying women in lockups to the courts and juvenile aid. Since there is an inadequate representation of women judges among members of the higher and lower judiciary, a shortage of women judges would further lead to a backlog of cases & a consequent delay. Promotions & other conditions of service for judges would also eventually get ghettoised, which is not a positive trend at all. Also, the philosophy behind such a judgment (if it indeed was made) would be that only "women judges can be sensitive to cases of sexual assaults on women", which ought to be disputed. Are women judges born with sensitivity towards other women's situations & experiences? Are male judges so inherently insensitive that no amount of training can sensitise them to sit in judgment over cases of sexual assaults on women? Our own court practice in Mumbai has shown us that some male judges are much more sensitive to such issues.

"Also creating special courts for sexual offences means placing sexual offences on a pedestal, on par with terrorism-related offences (for which special courts are created). If this is so, the underlying philosophy is that rape is worse than death - which again is a patriarchal and regressive notion.

"If the state wants to seriously contend with increasing sexual violence on women, there are several ways of going about it:

a) get police to be more sensitive - there are several cases of police being insensitive or corrupt, leading to loss of crucial medical evidence in cases of rape;

b) improve law and order, and general security within the country, especially in crime-prone areas;

c) encourage women to report such cases - this can happen only when the system starts functioning properly (police, investigation, prosecution & the system of trial) and;

d) sensitising of ALL judges.

"We don't feel that getting women judges to deal with cases of sexual assault will provide the solution.

"It is also absurd to get women judges to deal with dowry-related offences. Even if for sexual assault, the rationale is that women victims may feel awkward to give intimate details in the presence of male judges, that rationale doesn't hold true for dowry-related offences.

"Sexual harassment, could include sexual harassment at the workplace - which is presently covered under both civil & criminal law. There's no clue as to how the government plans to have female judges to deal with the issue in both civil & criminal legal systems."

Networkers from other contexts who have been involved in judicial training and reform programmes have added other comments. They note that while appointing women judges is good in itself, there is a need to re-analyse the process of the law and to deconstruct the sanctity of law as something that cannot be reinterpreted. Both male and female judges are needed for this process, and activist lawyers and judges are our trump cards. We also need solid data. Researching court and police files could provide data to justify one's case for reform. For that access is needed, which in turn requires the opening of channels with the police and judiciary.

Original article
Supreme Court Rules Rape Cases Must Have Female Judges

The Supreme Court has set up special courts to deal with rape cases that will be judged by female judges. According to the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), the court has asked that all courts show more responsibility and sensitivity while dealing with sexual assault cases. The female judges will also deal with cases of sexual harassment and dowry-related offenses in India.

The judges noted that rape is a crime against basic human rights and it violates the victim's right to life, reports IANS. According to IANS, the judges asked that these cases be dealt with sternly and severely because sexual violence is an unlawful intrusion on the right of privacy of a female as well as a de-humanizing act. The Indian capital of Delhi has a high rate of crimes against women, reports BBC News and the number of incidences of sexual assaults is 22 percent higher than last year.

A few months ago, a Swiss diplomat was raped after a film festival in India. A filmmaker was also raped on the same night, and a medical school student was gang raped by four presidential guards the same week.

Source: Feminist Daily News, 5.1.04. Website: