Sunday, November 28, 2010

Plea to recall ruling where woman was described as ‘keep'

Contending that the use of the expression ‘keep' in a recent judgment to describe a woman was highly derogatory and a discrimination against women on grounds of marital status, Mahila Dakshta Samiti, a women's organisation has moved the Supreme Court for its recall.

On October 21, a Bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra in a judgment had said, “not all live-in relationship will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005. If a man has a “keep,” whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a “relationship in the nature of marriage. Merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a ‘domestic relationship.”

Offended by the expressions used, the very next day, Additional Solicitor-General Indira Jaising voiced her protest before Justice Katju, who wrote the judgment, and indicated that women's organisations would be filing review petitions for recall of the ruling.

In its review petition, Mahila Dakshta Samiti said, “the expression such as ‘keep' which specifically refer to woman is based on social and cultural prejudices which need to be eliminated in order to prevent discrimination against woman. The expression would perpetuate social and cultural prejudices and is based on the idea of stereotyping woman.

It submitted that “Article 2(f) of the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination against Women calls for change in the traditional roles of men and women in bringing about gender equity. Article 2(F) provides that States should take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices, which constitute discrimination against women.”

It said, “in law only chattel can be “kept” and not human beings. Slaves could be “kept” as they are considered chattels in law and owned by the master. Hence the word ‘keep' is inappropriate in a constitutional regime such as ours which guarantees fundamental rights and the dignity of woman. The use of the expression ‘keep' violates Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India as it is not gender neutral and applies only to women. Further the expression ‘servants' is derogatory of the dignity of labour and they are now known as domestic help.”

The petitioner said, “while deciding the nature of the relationship, which meets the requirement of a relationship in the nature of marriage, the Supreme Court has also laid down certain relationship which do not qualify for being described as relationship in the nature of marriage.

It said the court had recorded its findings based on Wikipedia, which is an online encyclopaedia and information can be entered therein by any person and as such it may not be authentic and cannot be used for the purpose of determining the content of relationship. It was of the view that the Supreme Court was not called upon to give such observations in the facts and circumstances of the case as emerging from the judgment. The petitioner while seeking to recall the order in so far as the use of these expressions was concerned sought an oral hearing.

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