Women have the right to decide on pregnancy: SC judge

Women have the right to decide on pregnancy: SC judge

It is the woman's "choice" to either have a baby, or abort or prevent pregnancy. It is her right. Supreme Court judge A K Sikri said this today while speaking on the state of affairs relating to women's reproductive rights and the dominant role played by the menfolk and the family in imposing their decisions.

"When we talk of reproductive rights in this country, then there is hardly any choice so far as the woman is concerned ...I can't help but wonder how we as humans have failed humanity.

"I am perplexed as to how in the 21st century, with all the technological advances, becoming frequent guests in the (outer) space and creating artificial intelligence, we are still not able to bring our women to enjoy the fruits of humanity. That is the harsh reality," he lamented.

Justice Sikri was speaking at a symposium -- Reproductive Rights In Indian Courts: Celebrating Progress, Identifying Challenges And Discussing The Way Forward-- organised by the Jindal Global University (JGU) here.

"Reproductive right, which of course is a human right, is based on the human dignity. When we talk of reproductive rights, it is mixed with another right of women, that is the sexual right. When we talk of reproductive rights in India, there again the choice is of the husband in the family or what the elders say...when there should be a child, whether that child should be male or female etc.," he said.

He also dealt with the criminal practice of female foeticide and the role of men and families in it. "A woman's choice to reproduce, abort or prevent pregnancy, deals with her body. It is she, who, by the virtue of her anatomy, undergoes the process eventually. It is her body. Its her right," he said, adding "the choice has to be hers."

Justice Sikri justified the judicial over-reach on issues relating to human rights, saying "ultimately it is the judiciary which is the interpreter of the law, having the final say in what the law is."

Referring to the Visakha guidelines which laid down norms regarding women at workplaces, he said the courts have "stretched the boundaries, but there has been no criticism from other quarters." The Guidelines were a set of procedural guidelines evolved by the apex court in cases of sexual harassment in workplace.

Citing the recent Bollywood movie 'Pink', Justice Sikri said a woman must be free to make her own decision regarding her sexual and reproductive rights. "A woman is not free until she own her body," he cited an author as saying.

Justice Sikri also highlighted various social practises on how the women are badly treated in the society by referring to the famous novel 'Ek Chadar Maili Si', and saying that the mentality needs to be changed and the structure of patriarchy, which is deep-rooted, needed to be broken.

"When we talk of equality, then it can be said that a woman along with her partner can mutually take a decision.

"But not that the male partner imposes his decision on the female partner...because in this entire process of reproduction, it is her body and she has a right on her body like anyone else has. That is a fundamental right which we have to keep in mind when we talk of reproductive rights. This is based on the human dignity," he said.

He said that mere legislating a law will not bear fruit unless there is a social change to accept the women's natural rights. "Many times, law steps in to change the ills in the society but is not able to change it because of the societal norms and mentality which is not ready to change like dowry.

"The societal norms need to be changed, the mindset has to change to give equal rights to the women. We say women are the 'better half', but don't even give the tag of better half. At least give her the rights of equal half," he said.

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