Institute of Law, Nirma University, India in collaboration with the Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg, South Africa is organizing a four-part international webinar series on ‘Social Justice Continuum in Comparative Context: Indian and South African Perspectives on Equality, Labour Law and Legal Education’ during September -November 2021. The first seminar of the webinar series was organized on the theme of ‘Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law’ on 18th September, 2021. The speakers at the event were Miss Meghan Finn, Lecturer, Department of Public Law, University of Johannesburg; Mr Anand Grover, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India; Mr Manvendra Singh Gohil, Founder, Lakshya Trust, Champion of rights of LGBTQI+; Miss Leoni Van der Merwe, Lecturer, Department of Practical Business Law, University of Johannesburg and Miss Shreya Srivastava, Assistant Professor, Institute of Law, Nirma University. The first technical session was on ‘The Rights and Realities of LGBTQI+ Communities’ and the second on ‘Commitments to CEDAW’.
Dr Anup K Singh, Director General- Nirma University, and Dr Madhuri Parikh (Director & Dean-I/c), Institute of Law represented Nirma University and Professor Sarel Du Toit and Professor Wesahl Domingo represented University of Johannesburg. Professor Elmarie Fourie from University of Johannesburg and Professor Varsha Ganguly from Nirma University shared how the idea of collaboration was germinated, developed, and executed with the first seminar; and informed that an edited volume based on the webinar series is planned as an outcome.
Ms Meghan Finn highlighted the historical context and legal background of equality in the South African constitution and the anti-discrimination legislations in the country, with focus on formal equality and substantive equality. She also expressed her concerns about the discrimination which the LGBTQI+ community faces despite having guaranteed right to equality under the Constitution of South Africa. She further discussed recent developments such as burgeoning recognition of transgender rights, hate speech on sexual orientation by sharing LGBTQI+’s lived realities; and expressing concerns over the role of private organizations in safeguarding their rights.
Mr Anand Grover provided detailed overview on the legalities, legal battles and future issues for the rights of LGBTQI+ community in India. Starting with the historical positioning of the transgender community and development of the law of Section 377, detailed discussion on the legal battles fought for securing their rights and trendsetting verdicts, such as the NAZ foundation case, Aligarh Muslim University Case, Suresh Kumar Kaushal’s case, NALSA judgement and the Navtej Singh Johar judgment. A significant development that he highlighted was of the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017 which allows a person to take action against private actors as well.
Mr Manvendra Singh Gohil, a champion of rights of LGBTQI, started by sharing his experiences as an LGBTQ Human Rights Activist and Founder of Lakshya Organisation, the first organisation in Gujarat to empower and spread awareness concerning for the status and agency of transgender. He illustrated how Section 377 has been misused lately owing to the authoritative and arbitrary power of the police. Police under the pretext of Section 377 thrashes, exploit and emotionally harass the LGBTQ community.
Ms Leoni Van der Merwe stressed on the prevalence of violence against women in the Republic of South Africa and the world at large; as well as the intersection between the COVID-19 and violence against women. She also explained the present scenario of the application of the CEDAW in South Africa by focusing on certain relevant provisions of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996. Furthermore, she put forth the shortcomings in the South African model of the CEDAW highlighting how lived realities and socio-cultural barriers impact implementation of the CEDAW.
Ms Shreya Srivastava, analyzed the CEDAW and the Indian legal position from the perspective of three laws, viz. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013; and, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, with focus on rape as a crime. She discussed the work that India has accomplished regarding women’s rights and the suggestions that it has received from the United Nations on the implementation of CEDAW. She also focused on the grave situation that India faced during lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic, when domestic violence became a shadow pandemic. In the end, she said that it is essential for all to understand that women have faced patriarchal biases historically which have gradually got engrained in peoples’ perspective. She stressed on the need to remove these biases. Dr Varsha Ganguly delivered the vote of thanks at the event.