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The SC Handbook: A Tool for Countering Stereotypes


The Supreme Court has launched a handbook that contains a glossary of gender unjust terms and suggests alternative words and phrases which may be used.


GS II: Government policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the News SC Handbook
  2. Significance of Precise Language for Judges:
  3. Global Analogous Initiatives

About the News SC Handbook

Purpose and Content:

  • The SC handbook is a concise 30-page booklet crafted with the intention of aiding judges and the legal community.
  • Its primary objective is to facilitate the recognition, comprehension, and eradication of gender-related stereotypes, particularly concerning women.

Identification of Stereotypical Language:

  • The handbook meticulously identifies recurring stereotypes in the form of words and phrases, frequently present in legal judgments.
  • For instance, it highlights instances where words like “ravished” are employed as synonyms for “raped” in court verdicts, illustrating how such language perpetuates stereotypes.

Quotations from Judgments:

  • The handbook draws on excerpts from past judgments to illustrate how judges inadvertently reinforce gender-based stereotypes through their choice of words.
  • These citations serve to underline the importance of identifying and rectifying such language patterns.

Promotion of Alternative Language:

  • The handbook not only flags instances of stereotypical language but also provides suggestions for alternative, unbiased expressions.
  • For instance, it recommends substituting derogatory terms like “seductress,” “whore,” or “woman of loose morals” with the neutral term “woman.”

Transformation of Terminology:

  • The handbook advocates for a transformation in legal discourse by discouraging the use of derogatory terms like “hooker” and “prostitute.”
  • Instead, it advocates employing the term “sex worker” to engender respect and fairness in language.

Language Evolution and Empowerment:

  • The handbook advocates for the replacement of terms such as “eve-teasing” with “street sexual harassment,” reflecting a shift towards acknowledging the seriousness of the offense.
  • Furthermore, it proposes substituting “housewife” with “homemaker,” emphasizing the significance of domestic contributions.
Addressing False Assumptions:
  • The handbook aims to dismantle and counteract erroneous assumptions that have become associated with women.
  • It tackles stereotypes rooted in notions of women possessing inherent characteristics, including excessive emotions, irrationality, and an inability to make decisions.
  • Contrary to these stereotypes, the handbook asserts that a person’s gender does not dictate their cognitive abilities or decision-making skills.
Challenging Stereotypes:
  • The handbook identifies a prevalent stereotype that ties a woman’s character to her external choices, like clothing and sexual history.
  • These assumptions can distort the way judicial assessments are made in cases of sexual violence, even undermining the concept of consent in such scenarios.

Significance of Precise Language for Judges:

  • The language a judge employs is a reflection not only of their interpretation of the law but also of their understanding of societal norms.
  • Stereotypical language, even if it doesn’t alter the case’s outcome, can inadvertently reinforce values that contradict the principles of the constitution.
  • Language acts as a crucial conduit for transmitting legal values and intentions to the nation.

Global Analogous Initiatives:

  • Similar initiatives have taken root in various countries, supported by both academics and legal practitioners.
  • An example is the Women’s Court of Canada, comprising female lawyers, activists, and academics who compose “shadow judgments” focusing on equality law.
  • These efforts serve as a mirror to the court system, reflecting upon its practices and encouraging a more just and unbiased legal approach.

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express

February 2024