The fight for gender justice and equality got a major boost from the judiciary in 2018 with the Supreme Court allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple and re-affirming death penalty to three convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case.
The apex court also dealt with cases of rampant sexual abuse of women at shelter homes across the country, including the sensational one at Muzaffarpur.
The court termed as “horrible” and “scary” the details of the Muzaffarpur case placed before it by the CBI, which during the investigation allegedly recovered large quantity of ammunition from former Bihar minister Manju Verma and her husband Chandrashekhar Verma.
Manju Verma had resigned as Bihar’s Social Welfare Minister following the Muzaffarpur case after it had come to light that her husband had allegedly spoken to prime accused Brajesh Thakur several times between January and June.
Stand on section 497 of IPC
The apex court also took a tough stand against religious practices and archaic laws that repressed women “under the garb of biological or physiological factors” or treated them as a “chattel” and denuded them of their “sexual autonomy” and did away with archaic penal provision that made adultery a crime.
It struck down section 497 of the Indian Penal Code , which neither allowed a wife to prosecute her husband nor the other woman for adultery, and permitted a man to take legal action against his spouse’s lover for the same.
Kathua rape and murder case
The sensational Kathua gangrape and murder case of an eight-year-old girl from Jammu , which shocked the nation and drew international attention, saw the judiciary -- the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court -- initiating proceedings on their own relating to obstructions created by lawyers and revelation of the victim’s identity by media.
While the apex court transferred the trial in Kathua case to Pathankot in Punjab, the high court came down heavily on several media houses and directed them to deposit Rs 10 lakh in the Jammu and Kashmir Victim Compensation Fund after they apologised for revealing the details of the victim.
The top court asserted its stance on the issue by ruling in another matter that identity of victims of rape and sexual assaults, including those who have died, cannot be disclosed “even in a remote manner“.
It had also said that National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) scheme for compensating the victims of sexual assault and acid attacks should be used as guidelines by special courts in awarding compensation to minor victims of sexual abuse till the Centre finalised the rules.
As per NALSA’s scheme, a victim of gangrape in any part of the country would get a minimum compensation of Rs 5 lakh and up to a maximum of Rs 10 lakh.
The scheme also says that the victims of acid attacks, in case of disfigurement of the face, would get a minimum compensation of Rs 7 lakh, while the upper limit would be Rs 8 lakh.
In its much-awaited verdict, the top court dismissed the review petitions of three of the four death row convicts in the sensational December 16, 2012 gangrape-and-murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi.
The apathy of the government in disbursing funds to victims of rape came into fore when the apex court expressed its shock when it came to know that the Madhya Pradesh government was disbursing Rs 6,000-6,500 only to each rape victim.
“You value a rape at Rs 6,500,” was how an anguished top court had said.
Verdict on Godmen
Acting tough against allegations of sexual assaults against self-styled godmen, the Delhi High Court ordered CBI probe against Daati Maharaj.
The judiciary also ensured the rights of destitute widows by taking note of the need for a combined effort to improve their condition.
The apex court also strengthened the dowry harassment law by taking away the protection from immediate arrest in such cases that was granted by an earlier bench in July last year.
The Supreme Court modified its earlier order by removing the buffer against immediate arrest in dowry harassment cases saying that “the courts have ample power to grant pre-arrest bail, popularly called anticipatory bail, and even quash the criminal proceedings totally to stabilise the lawful balance”.