As misogyny and patriarchy influence official attitudes, it is time for civil society to assert itself to ensure gender equality in public discourse.
ON October 20, the Registrar of the Pune district court issued a controversial notice, asking women lawyers to not fix their hair in open court. Though it was withdrawn, after a backlash on social media, the incident is worth highlighting for what it represents: misogyny and patriarchy keep getting official sanction, though they are anathema in any civilised society.
The Pune district court’s notice, now withdrawn, read:
“It is repeatedly noticed that women advocates are arranging their hair in open Court, which is disturbing functioning of the Court. Hence, women advocates are hereby notified to refrain from such act.”
The notice received widespread criticism from advocates and the general public.
“Do these get distracted by their wives when they do the same. I bet no. These are those who would hardly care except their wives. They also need to explain why do they get distracted.”
In response to the notice, Shruti Jadhav, an advocate practising in Bombay High Court, told The Leaflet, “As long as the advocates, whether men or women, follow the guidelines prescribed under theAdvocates Act, 1961, the court’s decorum cannot be said to be disturbed.”
Similar orders, bordering on gender insensitivity and discrimination, have been issued by other public institutions in the past. Such circulars, besides reinforcing patriarchal norms in the conduct of public affairs, have raised concerns about decision-making by officials, devoid of sensitivity.
But it is not just the deep-rooted misogyny in public institutions. The patriarchal mindset of public officials is also behind such expressions. Recently, when Riya Kumari, a school student from Bihar,requestedfor the distribution of free sanitary napkins at a school function, Harjot Kaur Bhamra, an Indian Administrative Service officer and managing director of Bihar Women Development Corporation, mocked her plea thus: “Today, you are asking for sanitary pads… tomorrow you will ask for condoms.”
Bhamra went on to tell the girl that if she did not want to vote, she could go to Pakistan. Bhamra offered regrets for her remark, but not before the National Commission for Women issued her a notice, and the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, hinted at action against her.
Nevertheless, such expression of patriarchal sentiment is unusual, especially when it comes from the judiciary which, as an institution, is held in high esteem by the public.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court, in February 2021,set aside a circular by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (‘APSRTC’) that barredmarried daughters from applying for jobs with the APSRTC for compassionate appointment under the ‘Bread Winner Scheme’. The rules provided for only the son or unmarried daughter eligible for compassionate appointment.
Further, in March 2021, the Andhra Pradesh High Court set asideanother circular by the APSRTC that restricted women from taking up certain jobs like mechanic, shramik, and chargeman (printing). Allowing both petitions, the high court termed the rules as ‘gender discriminatory’ and ‘illegal and arbitrary.’
On January 29, after the intervention of the Delhi Commission for Women (‘DCW’), theState Bank of Indiawithdrew a circular on the conditions for the recruitment of pregnant women that barred women candidates from joining the bank if they were pregnant above three months, and termed them ‘temporarily unfit.’
According to the DCW, such rules were ‘discriminatory’, ‘illegal’, and in violation of the fundamental rights enshrined under the Constitution. The circular led tohuge protests across the country.
On June 21, theDCW issued a notice to Indian Bank over reportedly issuing guidelines preventing women candidates who were three months pregnant from immediately joining service after being selected under due process.
According to itsguidelines, “a woman candidate, who as a result of tests, is found to be pregnant of 12 weeks’ standing or over, should be declared as temporarily unfit until confinement is over. The candidate should be re-examined for a fitness certificate six weeks after the date of labour, subject to the production of a medical certificate of fitness from a registered medical practitioner”.
In July, the Indian Bank removed questions inquiring about a woman’s pregnancy from its revised fitness format, after DCW’s intervention.
TheOxfam Discrimination Report, in its 2022 edition, studied discrimination where individuals with identical capabilities are treated differently in the labour and capital market. The study highlighted that 98 per cent of the employment gap between salaried males and females in urban areas in India is on account of gender-based discrimination. According to the findings of the report, the huge employment gap is on account of a high degree of societal and gender discrimination.
The report further pointed out that the Periodic Labour Force Survey shows that men have a significant advantage in the labour market in comparison to women. It explains that patriarchy makes a large segment of women stay outside employment, and this has shown no improvement over time.
The misogynistic and patriarchal circular which the Pune district court withdrew following a public backlash is one of the series of episodes in our contemporary social life which explains why a large segment of women continue to stay outside employment.