Gender-Specific Laws Aim to Address Unique Gender-Related Challenges, Not Oppose Gender Bias, Affirms Delhi HC

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Published on: 30 August 2023 at 12:00 IST

In an effort to strike a balance, the Delhi High Court has clarified its stance on “gender-specific laws,” highlighting the necessity for courts to maintain “gender neutrality” while handling such cases.

The court emphasized that the intent to address gender-related concerns should not be misconstrued as inherent bias against the opposite gender or as being “anti-men” when applicable.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma ruled that these laws are designed to tackle distinct issues faced by specific genders, rather than fostering opposition between genders.

The court further emphasized that the presence of gender-specific legislation does not warrant a departure from the crucial principle of having sufficient evidence on record during the charge framing stage.

It underscored that regardless of the specific gender a legal proceeding pertains to, the foundation of such a proceeding remains the “availability of adequate evidence and adherence to due process of law.” Thus, while addressing unique gender challenges, the fundamental principles of fairness and justice should not be compromised.

Moreover, Justice Sharma stressed that the gender-specific nature of legislation should not alter the role of a judge from that of neutrality to partiality towards a particular gender.

The judge’s primary duty is to objectively interpret and apply the law without any gender bias or predisposition. Gender-specific legislation serves to confront unique concerns and challenges faced by specific genders in society. However, this doesn’t imply that gender-related factors should influence the judge’s decisions, unless specific gender-based presumptions are legislatively established.

The court further emphasized that judicial neutrality is an indispensable cornerstone of the legal system, ensuring equitable and fair treatment for all parties, regardless of their gender.

In India, the criminal justice system is adversarial in nature. However, it cannot be seen as adversarial between men and women per se. Instead, it should solely revolve around two individuals: one being the complainant and the other being the accused irrespective of the gender, however, at the same time, while adjudicating the cases firmly remembering and appreciating the social context and situation of a particular gender who may be in a lesser advantageous situation than the other,” the court said.

Justice Sharma made these observations while setting aside a trial court order framing charges against a man for outraging the modesty of a woman employee by using vulgar language against her and calling her a “gandi aurat.”

Observing that Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, does not inherently introduce a presumption in favour of women, Justice Sharma said it is essential for courts to apply principles of charge and discharge objectively without being unduly influenced by the fact that the provision is gender-specific.

The mere gender specificity of a legal provision does not automatically create a presumption in favor of that gender, unless such a presumption is explicitly articulated within the legislation itself. In other words, the Court should approach cases under Section 509 IPC with a neutral and impartial stance, treating and testing them in accordance with long established criminal legal principles of law and procedure,” the court said.

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