The Indian Feminist Judgment Project
Just outside the walls surrounding O.P. Jindal Global University, men dominate the world. Most women, irrespective of their social background feel unsafe walking on the notorious streets of Haryana, where rape-culture is the reality of everyday life. Amidst the milieu of socially and culturally entrenched patriarchy, a group of scholars joined forces to birth the Indian Feminist Judgement Project. As I sat in a room full of women scholars, legal practitioners and judges accompanied by a few men, it seemed as though, even the usually reticent women had emerged from their shells to boldly proclaim their feminist ideals, in solidarity with their sisters. The Project, much like its sister projects aims at exploring and questioning the ‘neutrality’ of law’s empire. However, the uniqueness of the project stems from the inclusion of sociologists, political-scientists and historians in addition to legal practitioners and academics as judgement writers and commentators. This will allow the project to have broader horizons and an interdisciplinary strength that her predecessors may have lacked. The Project is premised on bridging the gap between theory and practice by having a group of feminist scholars collaboratively righting and re-writing key cases that affect the lives of women all over the country.
The Indian Feminist Judgement Project was inaugurated on the 14th of May 2018 at the Jindal Facility, in the heart of New Delhi. The Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Gita Mittal J. delivered the keynote address. She addressed the crowd of eager academics, practitioners, social scientists and students, injecting hope into the gathering, about the need for and the potential of the Project. Justice Mittal admitted that most judicial minds in India do not grapple with concepts of gender identity and sexual autonomy. She emphasized that the gendered nature of the law can be overcome, only through a feminist interpretation and thus feminist judging can and will have a great impact. She continued by citing a number of cases where a feminist interpretation of the law had altered the outcome of a judgement or changed the narrative the judgement would create. For Instance, in the Delhi HC Judgement in Vikas Yadav v. State of U.P., Justice Mittal awarded the surviving spouse/lover compensation as a ‘victim’, in the case of an ‘honor killing’ (wherein a man/woman is murdered for dishonoring their family by marrying or falling in love with someone outside their caste/religion). She emphasized that her outlook as a feminist woman allowed the judgement to have more empathy than the myth of a ‘disengaged, disinterested and distant’ judge would allow for. Her inspiring words set the tone for the workshop that followed.
May 15-16, the O.P. Jindal Global University campus was teeming with feminist scholars. The first day of the workshop was dedicated to educating the judgement writers about the various methodologies available to them. Prof. Nivadita Menon from JNU described her reliance on ‘methodological anarchy’ to reach feminist goals while Prof. Kalpana Kannabbiran emphasized on the methodology of ‘fact finding’, that characterized the Indian Women’s Movement of the 1980s, as a potent tool against law’s empire. Prof. Mrinal Satish highlighted the necessity of staying true to the form of the judgement and quoted various sections from the Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code to inform judgement writers of their responsibilities. The second session began with a briefing by Prof. Rosemary Hunter, who the organizers lovingly called the mother of the feminist judgement writing projects. The writers and commentators then addressed various issues about the form of the judgement, credible sources for facts, availability of original pleadings and temporal constraints among others. The next session saw three eminent jurists – Justice Ruma Pal, Justice Prabha Sridevan and Justice K. Chandru elaborating on the art of judgement writing and exploring the constraints that each judge faces while delivering their decisions. This was inspirational and informative, as the judges narrated personal experiences to teach shadow writers the intricacies of their trade.
The second day of the workshop saw writers and commentators breaking into themed groups as they presented and mulled over each one of the twenty-seven cases sought to be re-written. The final session summarized these deliberations and introduced the publication plan for these shadow judgments. The gathering dispersed with a promise to reconvene in October to further their collaborative endeavor, when the final judgements and commentaries will be dissected before they go into publication. This Project is the first of its kind in India and the Global South. Inaugurated twelve years after her first sister project in Canada, the Indian project seems to have a bright future.
Ms. Shama Abbasi is a Senior Research Associate at the O.P. Jindal Global University, India. Her research focuses on Islamic Feminism and the interface between State Power and Human Rights. Ms. Abbasi holds a B.C.L. from the University of Oxford and a B.A.LL.B (Hons.) from the Jindal Global Law School. She has many experiences working with UN organizations and NGOs in the field of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law.