[dropcap]V[/dropcap]IOLENCE is recognised as “nothing more than the most flagrant manifestation of power”[1]

As Deborah Cameron puts it, “Sexist language teaches us what those who use it and disseminate it think women’s place ought to be:  second-class citizens, neither seen nor heard, eternal sex-objects and personifications of evil.”In this way, sexist language is violent.   Cameron proceeds to refer “to violent speaking and writing and to violent-centric language. “Later,” she notes, “A whole vocabulary exists denigrating the talk of women who do not conform to male ideas of femininity:  nag, bitch, strident.  More terms trivialise interaction between women:  girls’ talk, gossip, chitchat, mothers’ meeting.”

Language is more than a mere communication tool. It is an intuitive social, cultural and political indicator, which reflects prevailing attitudes and ethos of any society. So, when we talk about “gender bias” in a language, we refer to the superior-inferior paradigm that has evolved due to distinction in gender of the people. Co-relating to the Indian context, we find that the phrase “gender bias” is generally indicative of women’s inferior status in our society.

Legal language or the language of law, of which the judiciary is the custodian and guardian, is the emphatic layer to the language of a nation. In a democracy, legal language must be judged by how clearly and effectively it communicates the rights and obligations conferred by the Constitution, the opinions interpreted and expressed by a court, the regulations embodied in a statute, or the promises exchanged in a contract.

In the pursuit of a “gender just” and “equal” society, misogynistic phraseology in political, social or legal parlance cannot be allowed, entertained or nurtured. Thus judiciary is responsible for not only rejecting such phraseology but for ensuring its elimination in the reading, interpretation and explanation of the law.

Though 70 years have passed since India attained independence, the country routinely grapples with prejudicial attitudes and beliefs about gender, ethnic and religious groups.

This ‘Glossary of Gender Justice’, which was kickstarted by Aditi Sachdeva for the Lawyers Collective,  is an endeavour to call out/identify such words and phrases appearing in India’s judicial language, which perpetuate patriarchy, endorse stereotypes of women’s perceived roles and behaviour and entrench biases that are detrimental to the status of women in our society.

Just as language echoes the times and culture of period, it also has the power to influence the thoughts of a nation and mould the culture of a society. The judiciary must consciously eliminate derogatory tendencies towards women in our (spoken and judicial) language.



[1]        Hannah Arendt, On Violence, (New York:  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1970), p. 35.



Read the Glossary on: The Indian glossary of gender justice

The Leaflet