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Supreme Court creates universal restrooms at its premises, describes them as landmark initiatives to revisit the modes of organisational and spatial developments

The initiative is aimed at the inclusion of gender minorities to ensure a more dignified work environment at the Supreme Court.

PURSUANT to the inclusion of gender minorities at the Supreme Court, nine universal restrooms are being created at different locations in the main building of the court at Tilak Marg as well as the additional building of the court, on the directions of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud.

Further, Senior Advocate Dr Menaka Guruswamy has been inducted as a member of the ‘gender sensitisation and internal complaints committee’ (GSICC) of the Supreme Court. The court’s online appearance portal, launched last year, has also been made gender-neutral.

According to the court: “These landmark initiatives to revisit the modes of organisational and spatial developments are aimed at sensitisation towards and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ community to ensure a dignified work environment at the Supreme Court.”

These steps have been taken after Rohin Bhatt, a queer, non-binary lawyer practising at the Supreme Court, wrote to the Chairperson of the Supreme Court GSICC, Justice Hima Kohli, on the need for infrastructural inclusivity in the Supreme Court, including the need for queer representation, on March 22.

Responding to these developments, Bhatt said, “The Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India have accepted my suggestions. The Supreme Court is now truly inclusive.

In his letter, Bhatt had highlighted that the Supreme Court does not have a gender-neutral restroom. As a result, transgender, non-binary and gender non-confirming lawyers often find themselves without a place to go when they need to use a restroom.

Further, Bhatt noted that the GSICC comprises representatives from the Supreme Court Bar Association, the Supreme Court Advocate-on-Record Association and the Supreme Court Bar Clerks’ Association, apart from nominees from the CJI. However, the GSICC has no representation of transgender persons from the Bar, the Bench, or among the nominated members.

The GSICC has been formed pursuant to The Gender Sensitisation & Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Regulations, 2013.

The letter noted, “With every passing day, more and more lawyers who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community are being called to the Bar. Last week, Kerala State Bar Council enrolled its first transgender lawyer [Padma Lakshmi]. While more queer lawyers are joining the Bar, it becomes important to have the infrastructure in place to provide support to queer lawyers practising at the Supreme Court.”

Having inclusive infrastructure in courts is vital to weaving the fabric of the complex social life led by those that form the queer Bar, and those that exist outside of the networks of privilege and power that are afforded to cis-gendered, heterosexual advocates, Bhatt stated in the letter.

Bhatt had earlier written a letter to the CJI Dr Chandrachud on November 26 last year, requesting to modify the appearance slips at the Supreme Court. He suggested that an additional column for mentioning parties’ and advocates’ preferred pronouns and titles be added as it would allow the court to correctly use their pronoun in the court’s orders and judgments.

According to Bhatt’s letter to the CJI, the use of correct pronouns in the court’s orders and judgments would affirm self-determination and disallow misgendering, which reinforces exclusion. But he noted in his letter to Justice Kohli that the new online portal still did not have any columns for advocates to specify their preferred pronouns.

Bhatt had also suggested in his letter to Justice Kohli that the scope of the GSICC must be widened to a ‘gender and sexuality sensitisation and internal complaints committee’. The Supreme Court has stated that this proposal is also under active consideration.

This comes on the heels of many recent attempts by the Supreme Court to be more inclusive of historically marginalised communities and groups. For example, in February, the Supreme Court Committee on Accessibility had published questionnaires on the accessibility for stakeholders who are differently-abled and for disability rights experts to evaluate the physical, functional and technological accessibility of the Supreme Court for differently-abled persons.