Several women leaders and organisations called out Delhi High Court Judge Pratibha M Singh, who said on Wednesday, 10 August, that Indian women are “blessed” because Indian scriptures like Manusmriti give a “very respectable position” to women.
Speaking at the inaugural session of a conference organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), the Delhi HC Judge said,
“I really think we are a blessed lot of women in India and the reason for that is our scriptures have always given a very respectable position for women and as Manusmriti itself says that if you don't respect and honour women, all the 'pooja path' that you may do has no meaning. So I think our ancestors and Vedic scriptures knew very well how to respect women."
The topic of the conference was on the subject 'Facing the unseen barriers: Addressing Challenges faced by Women in Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship and Mathematics (STEM)', Bar and Bench reported.
Left women leaders and organisations called out Justice Singh for her comments, saying that they "reeked of casteism and classism."
In a statement issued on Thursday, the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) said, "Her reading of the Manusmriti willfully chooses to ignore the institutionalised prescriptions of the absolute disciplining and punishing of women bodies and ideas. This is in addition to the despicable ascriptive norms of caste that is encoded in the said text."
'Lucky to Be a Woman in Country like India': Justice Singh
The judge further said that while there is still “violence and the bad things” that happen to women in India, women are “lucky” to be in a country where women are respected and are progressive about women taking up leadership roles.
"I really think we are lucky to be in a country like India where India is actually much, much more progressive about women being in leadership roles. I am not saying we need to ignore the violence and the bad things that happen to women at a lower level, but yes at the higher level, in the middle level, we are seeing women growing," she stated.
She advised working women to live in joint families to “share our resources” and not be “selfish” to live in a nuclear family. Justice Singh emphasised that the men in joint families promote women since they are older and wiser.
"That way, we share our resources. Sharing is caring, we do not need to be selfish to say 'I need my time, I need this.' You can be a little more adjusting and compromising, but the benefits of a joint family system are far more than what in a nuclear family."
"When there are more people who can take away your tension, who can share your problems with you, the stress also reduces quite a bit. So larger families is the way to go, especially for women who want to have careers," she added.
Responding to her comments, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said that the judge seems "woefully ignorant of the pathetic condition of women at large and particularly women from historically marginalised communities."
The CPM Politburo member further said that the scriptures she had quoted were in "flagrant opposition" to the Constitution and rights granted to women in India, especially Dalits and Adivasis.
"Her statement only strengthens the retrogressive views of those who uphold the caste system and that women must accept subordination and control of men – fathers, husbands, sons," Karat added.
On Women in Legal, STEM Fields
Commenting on women in the legal profession, Justice Singh said that women lawyers make the best spouses as they understand the difficulties faced in litigation disputes.
She spoke about the biases and taboos surrounding women who choose litigation and highlighted that their parents fret that no one would marry them. She added that with increasing representation in the judiciary, the community of judges and lawyers was growing and creating forums and platforms for regular interactions with young budding lawyers who wish to litigate.
While discussing the contrast in the number of women receiving education in the STEM fields, vis-à-vis women that make it into the workforce, she said that it was not simply about “empowering women,” but putting in place flexible, “women-friendly” systems.
She said, "It is not about empowerment, it's about putting the best systems in place to make sure that the systems are women-friendly, the systems are flexible enough to allow women to come up with them and use their educational qualifications to contribute to the country's progress."
The Judge said that the schemes put in place for encouraging women in the STEM fields need to be scaled up drastically.
'Manusmriti Denies Property Rights to Women, Prohibits Widow Remarriage': Women Slam Singh's Comments
Taking to Twitter, All India Progressive Women’s Association secretary Kavita Krishnan said that it was "downright scary" that the rights of women in India lie at the mercy of judges like Pratibha Singh.
"The Manusmriti lays down the law that a woman who makes love to a man of a higher caste incurs no punishment; a woman who makes love to man of a ‘lower caste’ than hers must be isolated and kept in confinement. If a man from a subordinate caste makes love to a woman of the highest caste, he must be put to death. For a judge to call all this ‘respect’ is worse than absurd," she said in a statement.
Another female Twitter used said, "Justice Pratibha Singh’s comment cannot be just brushed lightly, for someone who potentially has the power to decide individual/collective future. Besides it isn’t only about women, Manusmriti advocates casteism, it is against the Bahujans, especially marginalised women."
Meanwhile, a woman pointed out on the social media website that Manusmriti underlined the denial of property rights to women and widow remarriage, and promoted dowry and child marriage. It also contains several "myths" regarding menstruation.
(With inputs from Bar and Bench and PTI.)
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