The Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order granting bail to a molestation accused on the condition that he would request the victim to tie him a ‘rakhi’ has attracted widespread criticism it deserved for displaying lack of gender sensitivity. During the hearing of a PIL filed by women lawyers against the order, Attorney General KK Venugopal termed it as ‘nothing less than a drama that must be condemned.’ Unfortunately, the order is not an exception. It’s the reflection of a deep-rooted malaise afflicting the Indian judiciary which remains a male bastion even in the 21st century when women are marching shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in every sphere of life. As on September 1, there were only two women judges in the Supreme Court, which has a sanctioned strength of 34 judges. The representation of women in the 25 high courts too remains a matter of concern as there were only 78 women judges against the sanctioned strength of 1,079.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently told the Lok Sabha that the high courts of Patna, Manipur, Meghalaya, Telangana, Tripura and Uttarakhand didn’t have any woman judge at all, while the high courts of Gauhati, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Sikkim had only one each. ‘Seventy years after the birth of a post-colonial independent state, there is still a need for change in attitudes and mindsets to recognise the commitment to the values of the Constitution,’ said a Bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud in February this year while paving the way for women in command positions in the Army. Venugopal has suggested that judges need gender sensitisation. The Supreme Court has indicated that it would lay down guidelines for judges to deal with such cases.
While these steps must be welcomed, much more needs to be done. The Supreme Court collegium must take a conscious decision to elevate more women to the Bench. Else, it would be difficult to address the issue of male subjectivity in judicial decisions as reflected in the MP High Court’s controversial bail order due to under-representation of women in the judiciary.