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Women need more than token gestures

The courts seem only too eager to hand out sops in the name of Women’s Day. But true action is called for on part of the legislature, not the judiciary. It will be three years to the day that a bill for reserving 33 per cent of all Parliamentary seats for women remains to be passed. It must be borne in mind that courts merely interpret the law, and their use is limited if the laws themselves are out of date.

On several occasions, this newspaper has pointed out the glaring lacunae in laws dealing with crimes against women. The presidential ordinance fell far short of people’s expectations, which ran high after the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma Committee. Recently the Bombay HC has, albeit ineptly, made egregious policy changes in favour of women. Weeks after the now-infamous Delhi gangrape, the court allotted all appeals against convictions in rape cases to a division bench comprising two women judges.

On March 5, the court ordered rape victims’ names to be left out of bail applications, to ensure their anonymity. The final sop came on Thursday night after the High Court issued a circular directing that all court staff members in crimes against women should also be women to enable victims to give their evidence in a “stress-free” atmosphere without fear or embarrassment. The circular added, “8th March being a woman’s day, (sic) the Hon’ble Chief Justice has directed the instructions to be implemented with immediate effect.”

It even seems all too convenient that a rapist’s death penalty was confirmed by the HC on Women’s Day, after noting that it was “the ultimate insult to womanhood” to rape a defenceless child. Tragically, whatever the courts and the Parliament seem to do often amounts to tokenism at best, and playing to the gallery at worst.

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