Avoid using phrases like ‘sl*t’, ‘bast**d’, ‘chaste woman’ in legal matters, advises SC

Announcing the 'Combating Gender Stereotypes' handbook, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said use of stereotypes should be avoided in legal proceedings

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud (photo: National Herald archives)
Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud (photo: National Herald archives)

NH Digital

Lawyers and judges often use inappropriate stereotypes to describe women and men while presenting arguments or writing judgments, reflecting old prejudices which are no longer valid, said Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Wednesday.

The CJI observed that it is not the responsibility of women alone, for instance, to look after elderly in-laws. It is wrong to assume that all women want to have children; similarly, it is wrong to assume that working women do not take care of their children. Courts have generally been open to stereotypes that women are "overly emotional, illogical and cannot take decisions".

Chandrachud was speaking in open court to announce the publication of a 30-page Supreme Court handbook titled 'Combating Gender Stereotypes'.

The phrase ‘woman with loose morals’ is inappropriate, says the handbook, and so is ‘wanton’ woman, or a woman of ‘easy virtue’. Expressions such as “dutiful wife/ faithful wife/ good wife/obedient wife” or “chaste woman” are clearly a construct of a patriarchal society. The adjective ‘fallen’ when applied to a woman is once again problematic, the glossary points out.

Similarly, men need not be described as ‘provider’ or ‘breadwinner’. Words such as 'employed' or 'earning' should suffice, the handbook points out.  

The handbook of alternative words and phrases has been prepared by the social justice sub-committee of the e-committee of the Supreme Court. The CJI also thanked Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya of Calcutta High Court, Justice Pratibha Singh of Delhi High Court, and Professor Jhuma Sen in particular for their initial draft.

Here is a list of inappropriate words and phrases and the alternatives suggested by the glossary.  

Adulteress: Woman who has engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage 

Affair: Relationship outside of marriage

Bas***d: Non-marital child/ a child whose parents were not married 

Biological sex/ biological male/ biological female: Sex assigned at birth 

Born a girl/ boy: Assigned female/ male at birth 

Career woman: Woman 

Carnal intercourse: Sexual intercourse 

Chaste woman: Woman 

Child prostitute: Child who has been trafficked 

Concubine/ keep: Woman with whom a man has had romantic or sexual relations outside of marriage 

Dutiful wife/ Faithful wife/ Good wife/ Obedient wife: Wife 

Woman of easy virtue: Woman 

Effeminate (when used pejoratively): Accurately describe the characteristic using a gender-neutral term (such as 'confident' or 'responsible') 

Eve teasing: Street sexual harassment 

Fag**t: Accurately describe an individual’s sexual orientation (such as 'homosexual' or 'bisexual') 

Fallen woman: Woman 

Feminine hygiene products: Menstrual products 

Forcible rape: Rape 

Harlot: Woman 

Hermaphrodite: Intersex 

Hooker: Sex worker 

Hormonal (to describe a woman’s emotional state): Use a gender-neutral term to describe the emotion (such as 'compassionate' or 'enthusiastic') 

Housewife: Homemaker 

Indian woman/ Western woman: Woman 

Ladylike: Use a gender-neutral description of behaviour or characteristics (such as 'amusing' or 'assertive') 

Layabout/ Shirker: Unemployed 

Marriageable age: A woman who has attained the legal age required to marry 

Mistress: Woman with whom a man has had romantic or sexual relations outside of marriage 

Prostitute: Sex worker 

Provider/ Breadwinner: Employed/ earning 

Provocative clothing/ dress: Clothing/ dress 

Ravished (such as 'she was ravished by him'): Sexually harassed/ assaulted/ raped 

Seductress: Woman 

Sex change: Sex reassignment or gender transition 

Sl*t: Woman 

Spinster: Unmarried woman 

Survivor/ Victim: An individual affected by sexual or other forms of abuse may identify as either 'survivor' or 'victim'. Both are applicable unless the individual has expressed a preference, in which case it should be respected 

Transsexual: Transgender 

Transvestite: Cross-dresser 

Whore: Woman 

Woman of loose morals/ easy virtue/ promiscuous woman: Woman 

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