New Delhi: Less than three weeks before he begins his tenure as Chief Justice of India, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud is at the centre of an impassioned debate on his feminism ‘hurting’ Indian culture. The Supreme Court judge is known for holding progressive stances — the right to privacy to decriminalising homosexuality. But some social media users can’t digest the future CJI’s views.
A #NotMyCJI trend has erupted on Twitter and people are accusing Justice Chandrachud of promoting “toxic feminism” after he urged National Law University (NLU) Delhi students to “incorporate feminist thinking” in the way they practise law. Senior advocates and women’s rights activists were shocked by the vitriolic attacks on the future CJI.
By 23 October evening, #NotMyCJI had been tweeted over 41,000 times. Re-tweets were increasing with every passing minute. “This happens all the time. But with Chandrachud being more vocal about his views, there will be reactions. Honestly, [we] should ignore social media reactions,” says senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan.
Feminism in courtroom
In his convocation address at NLUD on 15 October, Justice Chandrachud spoke on a range of issues on how justice is best served. “The rule of law, if understood and implemented properly, is a defence against oppressive structures such as patriarchy, casteism, and ableism,” he said.
But it was his comment on “feminist thinking” that has become a talking point.
Lawyers welcomed his “progressive and positive” comments, and women’s rights activists have hailed his “fearless and strident” voice to the cause of feminism. Senior advocates that ThePrint spoke to explain that the SC judge’s words should be taken in the context of “feminism as an affirmative action”.
“These statements made on social media against the comments of Justice Chandrachud would call for a better understanding of feminism,” says senior advocate Geeta Luthra. “Feminist thinking is with a view to promote gender equality. While the word can have different meanings for different people, I think Justice Chandrachud only used it to convey being more progressive and positive in terms of women’s rights,” she adds.
Lawyers also point out that it was important for a male judge to view a situation from a woman’s perspective.
“What he [Chandrachud] meant is that when a woman is the victim, a male judge needs to unlearn the limitations imposed by his own male gender, and try to view and learn things from a woman’s point of view,” says advocate Sunil Fernandes.
A history of progressive views
Chandrachud is known for his inclusive judgements such as striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that criminalised homosexuality in 2018, enabling female Army officers to get permanent commission and command postings in 2020, and, more recently, extending abortion rights to married and unmarried women.
The #NotMyCJI Twitter storm is further fuelled by his comments made in 2018 when the SC struck down IPC Section 497, which criminalised adultery. Justice Chandrachud held that a man is not the ‘owner of his wife’s sexuality’; by marrying, a woman does not consent to refrain from sexual relations outside of marriage.
Many called him “woke” and said he was embracing an ‘immoral and Westernised culture’ and ‘destroying’ the fabric of Indian culture. Others have demanded that the present system of judges be scrapped and still more are blaming him for ‘tearing families apart’.
Fernandes points out that it was a Bench of five judges — of which Chandrachud was a member — that decriminalised adultery. “This can’t be misinterpreted to mean that the Supreme Court is endorsing adultery. It merely means that no criminal cases can be initiated for adultery,” he adds.
Chandrachud’s view on the sexual autonomy of a married woman is also a progressive point of view, according to Fernandes. “Just because he is supporting the right to choice, does not mean that he or the SC is making it mandatory or forcing it upon anyone in India,” he adds. Social media users are calling Chandrachud an ‘activist’ than a judge.
“It’s significant for people who identify as women to have allies like Justice Chandrachud in a position of power, and it’s even more important that he can set an example for other men and women both,” says Aparna Jain, leadership coach, DEIB Expert and author.
In the convocation address, the future CJI asked students to adopt a 360-degree view in their practice. He told the audience that they and himself, “have a lot to learn in terms of how we perceive law and apply social experiences” in order to make the law more inclusive for women.
“I’m all for law to being to be approached with a more feminist gaze. It needs to be done fearlessly and stridently, as I think he is doing that,” says Aparna Jain.
“I believe Justice Chandrachud is right. India has a poor record with women, whether it is violence against women or even engaging women in the formal labour force or in leadership positions. If we need to be transformational as a country, we definitely need to actively engage women who constitute almost half the population. Otherwise, their potential is wasted. Further laws and legislations cannot be created from a narrow lens. If you don’t have the necessary lived experience then you are probably going to exclude certain groups from consideration. A feminist lens incorporates inclusion and intersectionality, which is important for a complex country like India. We can a lot from the experiences of Justice Chandrachud and I am glad that he has put his thoughts on the subject on record,” says ElsaMarie DSilva, Founder Red Dot Foundation.
ThePrint has reached out to senior advocated for further comments. The copy will be updated as per the responses.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)