A five-member bench, headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, has been constituted to hear the pleas of Muslim women against Triple Talaq. Kurian Joseph, R F Nariman, U U Lalit and Abdul Nazeer are the other four members of the bench. It is a highly secular bench with members of different religious communities, namely, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Hindu and Muslim. And the bench is listening to seven writ petitions filed by Muslim women opposing Triple Talaq.
Since the bench has been announced, there has been a slight discomfort on social media over the gender representation of the entire bench. While secularism is the one of the core foundations of this bench, non-representation of women has certainly been called out.
The triple talaq bench is very interesting. 5 male judges of 5 different religions to decide on women's rights vis-a-vis religious laws.
— Apurva Vishwanath (@apurva_hv) May 10, 2017
The five judge bench on #TripleTalaq is indeed a secular platter yet strangely misses on any female representation,issue so close to women
— Geetika Swami (@SwamiGeetika) May 11, 2017
Supreme Court bench of 5 judges from 5 different religions to hear #TripleTalaq – Surprisingly, not a single woman judge among them!
— Ashutosh Srivastava (@AshutoshCruz) May 11, 2017
Entrepreneur and author of forthcoming book, Mothering a Muslim, Nazia Erum, who is actively participating in the Triple Talaq debate, told SheThePeople.TV, “Only a while ago we were laughing at President Trump’s all-male team signing the anti-abortion legislation. If we found that funny, may be we need to introspect on our own manel in SC deciding on Muslim women’s rights. This being the year 2017, surely we can find women judges in SC to sit on this bench.”
When I told her that there is only one female sitting judge in SC, she responded, “But the urgency shown by SC in pulling this off in holidays, am sure if they realize this issue’s importance, then they could have impressed the same importance for a female judge to be on the bench. In fact, Salman Khurshid has been asked to assist the bench. At least get a woman lawyer to do that.”
A BRIEF INTO GENDER REPRESENTATION IN THE SUPREME COURT
Here, the reality of Supreme Court having only one female judge currently comes to the fore. Justice R Banumathi from Tamil Nadu is the only sitting judge in the apex court. She was inducted in 2014 for a term of six years. When Banumathi entered the SC judges’ list, there was Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai present already, but her term ended the same year.
Last year, when judges were being chosen to be inducted in SC, there were two female chief justices who were in the reckoning. But they could not find favour with the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court who were part of the Collegium. And ultimately, five male judges were inducted. Since its inception in 1950, SC has had only six women judges on its august benches. The first woman judge who became an SC judge was Justice Fathima Beevi and she was inducted after 39 years of the emergence of SC.
This talks volumes about the under-representation of women at the higher level of decision-making in the judiciary.
“It would have been certainly better with better representation of women in the judiciary generally. But the reality is that currently in the Supreme Court, we only have one woman judge and putting her in the bench wouldn’t have made much of a difference,” Malavika Rajkotia, divorce lawyer
WHAT DO WOMEN IN THE JUDICIARY SAY?
Surprisingly, women in the judiciary do not see any problem with the all-male bench. Noted divorce lawyer, Malavika Rajkotia, said, “While it is true the issue is gender-based, I am actually very happy with the constitution of the bench. It is a very finely balanced and constituted bench. And there are many issues on gender which have been decided by male judiciary because the problem is that women are under-represented.”
She added, “It would have been certainly better with better representation of women in the judiciary generally. But the reality is that currently in the Supreme Court, we only have one woman judge and putting her in the bench wouldn’t have made much of a difference.”
Adding to this, Farha Faiz, who is an advocate at Supreme Court, president of Rashtriya Muslim Mahila Sangh, and petitioner in the matter, said, “It is actually a victory moment that finally the bench has been constituted as otherwise the Maulana would have overruled the matter. Many judgments have come in the past against these regressive practices but still they are continuing in society. The need of the hour is to get rid of Triple Talaq and later we can talk about representation as it is a very slow and lengthy process.”
She further expressed her views on how the bench should approach the matter. “Now the main concern is that the bench should also consider Sharia law along with the law. If they pass a judgment keeping only the law in mind, then Muslims Personal Law will not follow the order. And if they do not follow it, then going through such a long process might turn out to be a complete waste.”
While under-representation of women in SC is a concern, it should not be raised only when such a national issue is in the public eye. This issue needs special attention both from the public and the Supreme Court to bring about a better result. We can expect a change only when the public expresses outrage every time women judges don’t find representation in the Supreme Court.
Picture credit- Livemint
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