On the 8th of March, we at One Future Collective hosted a zoom panel on ‘The gendered access to justice’. With Shreyasi as the moderator, a former One Future Fellow and we were joined by Chandni Chawla, who practices criminal law at the Bombay High Court, Mrinalini Rabindranath, a Research Associate with the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project in Bhopal, Jeevika S, who is a social worker and a lawyer, Malavika Rajkumar from IT for Change and Mishika Singh, the founder of Neev – Foundation for Legal Aid.
Shreyasi started the panel off by asking each one of the panelists what justice means to them. Chandni and Mishika agreed that justice means ‘listening to the voices of survivors. To Malavika, justice is a system that is not just inclusive but also intersectional. Jeevika says, ‘feminist justice needs to look at different spectrums of needs of different communities. Mrinalini wonders if primary justice is only through law-making? They ask the panel to have alternative imaginations of creating well-informed communities.
Shreyasi then asked Chandni if they can give examples of statutes in India that present a challenge for women who seek justice. Chandni believes today’s news highlights this very issue. Marital rape and the hijab row show that statutes allow for misogyny and patriarchy. The challenges survivors face are gendered, along with the weight of caste and disability. Do judges today look at the many intersections? That is the question Chandni wishes they would address.
Shreyasi then goes on to ask Mrinalini why spatial dynamics of police custody are unsafe for marginalized communities, referencing the case of Mathura that exemplifies how state violence and repression and a quest for resource control are intimately tied to the bodies of Adivasi women. Mrinalini highlights that being habituated to sex does not mean consent in light of Mathura’s case. They recall how the women’s groups organizing protests hadn’t even contacted Mathura or informed her about the protests held in the account of her case until the day before the protest. When Mathura was asked about this, she said she wouldn’t join the protest as she was indifferent to it. Mrinalini then asks us why do we still struggle to question the compounding effect of caste on cases with power rape. There is a clear understanding that not everyone is treated with the same security when they access the court of law. The mainstream interventions are still to seep into the Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Mishika spoke about the changes in attitude that were discernible with many of Neev’s awareness campaigns. They tell us that one of the biggest challenges they faced is the gap in legal awareness that is faced by both educated and uneducated people. That being said, when we get to the place of educating them about the law, different degrees of patriarchy exist in different communities. They highlight how every community has a different way of functioning in the micro-level of things, especially when it comes to views on violence towards women. They tell us how they’ve been trying to break things and make sense of them at Neev.
Shreyasi shifts to questions pertaining to gender gaps in the digital economy. Malavika takes this forward by talking about how AI creates a patriarchal system of dispossession and exploitation. As a result of these capitalist, colonialist, and patriarchal systems, there’s always a question of ‘How much data can you extract from a woman?’. They go on to explain how it is a complete circle of exploitation where they take free data from us, create a product, and sell it back to us. According to them, these are the dominant structures of power created by AI. Access to justice equals labor rights equals economic rights. You cannot segregate it and view it only from a legal point of view.
Shreyasi then asks Jeevika how far policymakers in the Delhi government are to providing Anganwadi workers the status of government employees and hence facilities like retirement benefits, pensions, medical benefits, paid leave, travel allowances, etc. that adhere to the labor laws? They start by insisting that the Delhi government needs to address the needs of the informal workforce, their social protection rights and look at it through a gendered lens. Tokenistic raise in money does not equate to better labor rights. The Anganwadi protests are much larger and represent the plea of forest rights workers, sanitation workers, food production systems, etc.
Shreyasi suggests the existence of legal remedies and mechanisms alone cannot be made to measure women’s access to justice when the circumstances of access remain to be affected by factors not only inside the legal system but outside it – structural inequalities, patriarchal systems, and inherent biases. How does one navigate these challenges to move forward, they ask the panel. Chandni says they can only speak under legal remedies and goes on to highlight the need to sensitize all parts of the judiciary and bring in an intersectional lens.
Malavika notes that courts need to address the offline-online continuum and start recognizing all of them under the umbrella of violation of privacy. Of the many cases Malavika had studied, not one was from a marginalized community. This goes to show how many barriers there must be for people of such communities to even get their foot in the door. Offline skill-building, and allowing collective bargaining is required to enhance the economic participation of women.
Mishika says the quality of legal aid must improve and have better checks and balances with lower courts. They insist on the importance of implementing the Justice Verma Committee report recommendations. Mishika says, ‘It’s important to address agency, which gets taken away when we talk about violence towards women. Don’t take away their consent and make decisions for them.’
Mrinalini highlights that we need to begin talking about what the impact of criminalization does on other parts of people’s lives. The socio-economic factors for the communities we work with are extremely low in terms of education, livelihood, health.
Jeevika suggests that we must do better when it comes to investigating marginalized communities. The panel came to a close on a ray of hope by deciding to be more cognizant in navigating how we can empower marginalized communities and better enable them to negotiate with the law.
You can watch the full video here: https://youtu.be/Z6oOrw-D2oc
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