The legal system in India is so complex that it creates a huge gap between the law and the common people. It is to bridge this gap of understanding and making women aware of their legal rights, Advocate Manasi Chaudhari has come up with Pink Legal. It is India’s first-ever portal for women that will have all the information on women’s legal rights in simple language.
To know more about the initiative and how it can empower women, SheThePeople.TV had a conversation with Chaudhari, who is a practicing advocate from Hyderabad with a keen interest in gender rights. In 2018, she assisted Justice DY Chandrachud in the landmark judgments of section 377, Sabarimala temple and decriminalization of adultery.
Tell us why you started Pink Legal? What was it that made you think there was a need for such a portal?
I have always been passionate about gender equality and women’s rights and wanted to start a website to bridge the gap between law and the common man. The impetus came when, in July 2017, I was driving back home, in Hyderabad, around 10 pm. Upon a minor accident between my car and another, two boys came out of the other car and surrounded my vehicle. They started banging on my window and tried to open my car door. They were very aggressive and even broke my side-view mirrors. I managed to click a picture of their car and file a police complaint the next day. I got an unconditional written apology from those boys, but it got me thinking- I had the courage to file a police complaint because I am a lawyer, what about other girls? I immediately decided to work on Pink Legal so that each girl can know her legal rights and how she can take action.
Please tell us what Pink Legal is about and how it will empower women.
Pink Legal is the first-ever portal in India dedicated to women’s rights and women’s laws. It will contain precise and accurate information on all women related laws, ranging from rape and sexual harassment, to domestic violence and dowry, to maternity rights to inheritance of property, in an extremely easy-to-understand manner. Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone and access to the internet. Pink Legal will empower women by helping them understand their legal rights and recourse in any situation, with just the click of a button.
As far as legal help is concerned, do you think the law has failed or delayed in providing justice to women who have been raped and abused? Case in point being perpetrators in the 2012 Delhi Gang rape and murder case, who have been able to allude the death sentence awarded to them using legal recourses?
I have always been passionate about gender equality and women’s rights and wanted to start a website to bridge the gap between law and the common man.
Yes, I think the legal system has failed victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse. If a case like Nirbhaya, which got international attention, is still stuck at the execution stage since 2013, then imagine the condition of other cases that have not received this kind of attention. I was recently at an event where Nirbhaya’s mother spoke about their struggle of dealing with the legal system. The fast track court which was trying the Nirbhaya case did not even have a judge for two months. And despite the death sentence awarded in 2013, Nirbhaya’s rapists are still alive in 2020.
Why is women’s sexual or mental harassment not considered as a serious issue?
This is because we are a patriarchal society. Women are taught from childhood to adjust and compromise, to remain silent if they face any kind of sexual harassment, and worst of all, they are blamed for the abuse. Due to this, sexual harassment has been normalised in our society and is not considered worthy of any attention until and unless it makes news headlines.
Even if a number of laws are written and sanctioned, there are women and girls in some sections of society who do not have access to legal help. How would you address this gap, especially through Pink Legal?
Yes, unfortunately, although we have a number of laws for the benefit of women, most of them do not even know that these laws exist. What is surprising is that even urban, educated women are not aware of their legal rights (we conducted an online survey and found that 80 percent of women surveyed did not know their legal rights). We want to bridge this gap between law and common people, by bringing the law to them. Through Pink Legal, we want to make the law accessible to every woman, by explaining to women their rights in a language that they will understand. In the future, we also want to make the information available in regional languages, to increase our reach.
What according to you are some strengths and weaknesses of the Indian Legal system, as far as addressing women’s issues are concerned?
The strengths of our legal system are that we have very stringent laws and our judiciary is getting more progressive with each passing year. The weaknesses of our legal system are that we have very poor execution, and our cases are always delayed and pending for years. As a result, in most cases, justice is delayed, and hence, denied.
You assisted Justice Chandrachud in the Article 377 judgment. How it was a game-changer in your legal career and in the prospects of Indian law?
The Section 377 case which decriminalised homosexuality in India, made India one of the few progressive countries to accept homosexuality. The entire experience, from assisting Justice Chandrachud in reading and writing the judgment, to observing top lawyers like Indira Jaising and Maneka Guruswamy arguing the case in the Supreme Court, to watching the Supreme Court pronounced the judgment and the entire nation rejoicing, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had the opportunity to discuss the law with a legal genius like Justice Chandrachud on a regular basis, and understand how Supreme Court judges interpret and apply the law. Who better to learn the law from than the guardians of the law themselves!
Often it is reported that women ‘use’ legal rights in the wrong way. How does this conception create a negative idea of women empowerment?
Although we have a number of laws for the benefit of women, most of them do not even know that these laws exist. What is surprising is that even urban, educated women are not aware of their legal rights
Each time women raise their voice against any inequality, immediately there is a louder and opposing voice trying to crush the voice of women, and their spirit. We need to understand that the percentage of women who allegedly misuse the law is very minuscule to the large percentage of women who need the law to help them secure their legal rights. However, our patriarchal society, with its culture of victim-blaming, is always eager to highlight and focus more on the alleged misuse of legal rights by women (even if it is one in 100) than the failure of the law to protect women. This conception takes the focus away from the 99 out of 100 cases where society and the law fail women, and puts the focus on the one case, giving the wrong impression that majority women misuse the law.
Even if there are laws addressing many issues, women are discouraged to register a complaint by their own families who prefer silence over justice. How can women overcome these impediments and seek justice?
Yes, and the exact same thing happened with me, too (in the above-mentioned incident). My family was worried for me and suggested I let the incident go, but because of my legal background, I chose to speak up. For women to overcome these impediments, we need a systemic and step-by-step change. First, we should stop telling women to keep quiet and instead, encourage them to speak up. Second, women should be aware of their legal rights and recourse. Third, we need to sensitise the police and justice system to create a conducive environment for women to speak up.
What is the gap between law and the common man that you want to bridge through pink legal?
Laws in India are very complex, and there are multiple laws for similar rights. Also, the judicial system is complex and technical. All the above factors have alienated the common man from the legal system and created a huge gap between law and the common man. Pink Legal wants to bridge this gap by bringing the law to women and explaining all women related laws in a very simple manner. The laws will be organised into relevant topics, like sexual harassment, domestic violence, etc. so that women can understand all the laws which cover these topics, in one go.
Do you think the Indian legal system reinforces the same patriarchal and cultural beliefs that oppress women or is it capable of bringing a change?
Both. The laws are a reflection of society and are also capable of changing society. A classic example is Section 377 case. Section 377 was enacted by the British because in Victorian society homosexuality was considered unnatural, which was reflected in the laws of that era. However, after the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 and decriminalised homosexuality, homosexual people will no longer have to live in fear, and slowly, our society will come to accept homosexuality as normal and natural.
Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.