The move, according to the lawyer, would help to affirm the identities of queer lawyers who appear before the Court.
A queer lawyer practicing before the Supreme Court has written to the Chief Justice of India requesting for the appearance slips at the Supreme Court to include an additional column for mentioning people’s pronouns so that they may be correctly used in the Court’s orders or judgments. The letter, sent on November 26 via email, was written by Rohin Bhatt.
Bhatt wrote that this simple administrative modification would “go a long way in affirming the identities of the queer lawyers that appear before the Supreme Court”,“improving experiences within the legal system for [transgender], gender non-confirming and gender diverse lawyers”, and “addressing gender dysmorphia in queer lawyers”. He further wrote that this would obviate the need for lawyers or litigants to raise the issue only after incorrect titles or pronouns are used.
According to him, this would “herald in a new era of a queer-friendly judiciary” respectful of how people would like to be addressed, and “acknowledging that this should not be assumed based on name, appearance or voice”. Bhatt draws on the Supreme Court’s judgment in National Legal Services Authority versus Union of India (2014)which held the self-determination of gender to be a fundamental right of every citizen.
He elaborates in the letter that the use of incorrect pronouns or language that is not mindful of the gender identities of lawyers or litigants can inflict symbolic violence on them, which can enhance dysphoria, lead to psychological distress, and is disempowering, demeaning and discriminatory. On the other hand, the use of correct pronouns affirms identities and challenges exclusionary norms.
The letter cites the example of the Provincial Court of British Columbia, in which the court asks lawyers to provide the name, title (sometimes called ‘salutation’), and pronouns to be used in the proceeding, for themselves and for their clients.
The letter further appeals to the value of clarity and precision in legal writing, and implores the Supreme Court to “embrace language that is truly inclusive”. Such inclusivity, Bhatt reasons, would also impact legal writing practices, since judgments of the Supreme Court are read by lawyers and law students across the country.
“Once we accept that using queer-friendly language in legal writing and judgments is a worthwhile goal, it is essential to look up to the highest Court in the land to help to set the standard and demonstrate that the same can be done without compromising the style of the judgments,” Bhatt concludes.
Bhatt also suggests that law clerks assisting Supreme Court judges could be trained to check for queer-inclusive language, and that in the long run, lawyers may be instructed to use gender-inclusive language in the briefs they submit to the court.