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Solicitor stuns court with ‘keep’ outrage

New Delhi, Oct. 22: A day after a Supreme Court bench had used “keep” as a synonym for mistress in a judgment, it faced the fury of a senior government lawyer and rights activist.

“As a woman, I am hurt. I take strong objection to the use of certain words and expressions in the judgment,” additional solicitor-general Indira Jaisingh told the two stunned judges.

“This is just a literal translation of the Hindi word ‘rakhel’. How can you use the word ‘keep’ when talking of a woman? Can you say that a man was ‘kept’ by a woman? It works both ways.”

The bench was yesterday clarifying when a woman live-in partner could rightfully claim maintenance under the domestic violence act of 2005 on the ground of having been in a “relationship in the nature of marriage”.

Justice Markandey Katju and Justice T.S. Thakur had ruled: “If a man has a ‘keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose... it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage.”

Jaisingh, who had helped draft the domestic violence act, was in the two judges’ court today in connection with another case when Justice Katju prodded her to react to the judgment by calling her the “creator” of the 2005 act.

“I had thought I would keep quiet but now that you have sought my comments, I will tell you that I am hurt. Such words are derogatory,” she said angrily.

“How can a Supreme Court judge use such a word in the 21st century? Supreme Court judges should not use words that are not gender-sensitive.”

The packed courtroom watched stunned as Justice Katju tried to deflect the criticism saying they should concentrate on the case at hand. But Jaisingh, a firebrand feminist in her own right, wouldn’t stop.

“I am not quarrelling about the ratio (principles) of the judgment... that is correct. I am only objecting to the use of certain words and expressions. I will move an application seeking to have those words expunged.”

Speaking loud enough for all to hear, she said: “I don’t even want to appear before this bench.” Justice Thakur tried to defuse the tension by asking whether it would have been better if they had used the word “concubine”. Jaisingh did not take him on but later said: “That would have been worse.”

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