'I thought all are treated equally in court'

Sep 04, 2012, 11:27 IST | Samarth Moray

Says 36-year-old woman, who was barred from entering the Bombay High Court to view its anniversary exhibition as she was wearing a sleeveless top

There’s no skirting this issue any longer. Barely a fortnight after a Ganpati mandal’s announcement that it won’t allow youngsters who seek darshan dressed in short clothes, a 36-year-old media professional Priya Pathiyan was barred from entering an exhibition at the Bombay High Court, on the pretext that the top she wore was sleeveless. Officials of the court attributed the incident to a notification issued in 2011, which requires visitors and litigants to enter the premises wearing ‘modest dresses, and in sober colour.’ The exhibition, organised on the occasion of the High Court’s sesquicentennial anniversary, is on display till September 16. Speaking to MiD DAY, Pathiyan said, “I was shocked. I thought that in the courts all are treated equally and constitutional freedoms are granted to all. Yet, there I was being prevented from entering the court.”

Top this! Priya in the top she had worn to court on the day of the incident

Ironically, posters publicising the exhibition outside the court prominently read, ‘Open to the Public’. Pathiyan had heard good reviews of the exhibition, and decided to check it out on Saturday as she was in the neighbourhood.

Pathiyan claims that a bespectacled policewoman stopped her at the counter for security and baggage check. “When I asked her why she wasn’t letting me enter, she pointed to my bare arms and asked me if I had something like a shawl to cover them up with. I told her I didn’t, and even requested the security cabin personnel to lend me one if they had access to it,” said Pathiyan.

Pathiyan said, “Even though I am a senior journalist, who has worked with mainstream newspapers and magazines for over 15 years, I had this unpleasant experience. It is advisable that the authorities put up a notice clearly mentioning their dress code at the entrances. Leaving it to the arbitrary interpretation of sundry personnel will inevitably lead to another situation like this.”

Apurva Thipsay, a law student, said, “I agree that one needs to be decently dressed in courts. However, I don’t see what the harm is with wearing a sleeveless top. It goes against the tradition of an ‘open court’, where any member of the public can come and watch the proceedings.” Advocate Swapana Kode said, “When you come to court, you are expected to dress in a manner that will help maintain decorum of the Court.” 

Mind the colour too!
Security in-charge of the court Keshav Shengale referred to a notification issued on September 7, 2011 (copy available with MiD DAY) by the prothonotary and senior master for the court, which reads, ‘I am directed by way of abundant precaution so as to keep a thorough check on unsocial activities by any unscrupulous elements entering the High Court premises; instruction be, therefore issued forthwith to all security guards deployed at various entrances… to allow those visitors and litigants who are wearing modest dresses and in sober colour’.

The other side
DV Sawant, prothonotary and senior master for the Bombay High Court, said, “There is a rule that one must dress decently while entering High Court premises. However, the interpretation of that rule is left to the policemen who conduct security check.”
Bombay High Court Registrar-General SB Shukre said, “It is true that visitors dressed in indecent and inappropriate clothing aren’t allowed to enter court premises, but there is no restriction as such on persons wearing sleeveless clothes. The complaint you have received appears to be incorrect.”
Keshav Shengale, senior inspector in charge of security at the Bombay High Court said, “There is no bar on anyone wearing sleeveless clothes. As per the prothonotary’s notification, a person should dress decently. We had implemented the rule as many tourists would enter the premises dressed inappropriately.”

Security guards (should) be instructed to allow those visitors and litigants who are wearing modest dresses, in sober colour. A September 7, 2011 notification issued by Senior Master of the Bombay High Court


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