NEW DELHI: The fight for gender justice got a fillip from the judiciary in 2017 as the courts dealt with an iron hand crime and archaic practices against women with the Supreme Court leading from the front by abolishing the system of triple talaq and "criminalising" sex with a minor wife.
The stern message to perpetrators of crime against women was reflected in the apex court's verdict in the December 16 gangrape-cum-murder case in which all the four convicts were sent to the gallows with strong observations that also mentioned "if at all there is a case warranting award of death sentence, it is the present case".
If the issues relating to triple talaq, physical relation with minor wife and verdict in the December 16, 2012 gangrape and murder case by the top court hogged the limelight, there were other cases and incidents from the courts across the country which dealt with offences against women.
The most sensational one was the exploitation of women in Haryana's Sirsa where misdeeds of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, were exposed after a court in Panchkula held him guilty of raping his disciples by sentencing him to 20 years in prison in two cases.
A similar case surfaced in the national capital in which the Delhi High Court in the fag end of year swung into action to rescue minor girls and women from the ashrams of another fake spiritual leader Virendra Dev Dixit.
At the same time, women continued their fight for equal right and participation on issues ranging from religion to rituals which were manifested in the hearings of the top court relating to entry of menstruating female in Sabrimala temple and Parsi women wedded outside the community seeking right to participate in 'Tower of Silence' and during last rites.
The progressive approach of the top court, as seen in Sabrimala and Parsi matters, was also witnessed while dealing with issues relating to medical termination of pregnancy.
However, a controversial verdict annulling marriage of a woman, who had converted before marrying a Muslim man, came from the Kerala High Court which dubbed it as 'love jihad'.
The case finally reached the Supreme Court which allowed the 25-year-old woman, Hadiya, to go to college to pursue her further studies, even as she pleaded to be allowed to go with her husband.
On several occasions, the judges faced ticklish situation when nod for termination of pregnancy was sought on various medical grounds in cases where the foetus was more than 20- week old, a situation which is prohibited under the law.
The apex court took a liberal step by taking the opinion of doctors in all such cases, including a case of a mentally retarded rape victim, and allowed termination of pregnancy in most of these matters.
The question of guardians' consent needed to undergo abortion also cropped up before the court which answered it in negative, holding that fundamental concept of a woman's bodily integrity and personal autonomy has to be respected.
The tough stand taken by courts in dealing with cases of crime against women is the need of the hour since the data of National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) indicates that as compared to 2015, the rape incidents in 2016 have risen sharply in comparison to rise in other crimes, including molestation, cruelty by husband or his relatives and abduction of women.
The NCRB statistics show that in 2016, overall crimes against women rose by only about 3 per cent while incidents of rape went up by 12 per cent and Delhi, which recorded 13,803 incidents, topped the chart of cities in terms of crime against women, followed by Lucknow with 1,260 cases.
While the apex court was pro-actively addressing vexatious issues concerning women, courts in other parts of the country were also handling cases of acid attacks, rape, honour killing and protecting women marrying outside the community.
Down South, a court in Kerala's Ernakulam awarded death penalty to a migrant worker for trespassing a woman's house and murdering her when she resisted his attempt to rape her.
Similarly, six persons were recently sentenced to capital punishment by a court in Tamil Nadu's Tripur in connection with the suspected honour killing of a 22-year-old Dalit man in full public view in March last year.
The case drew outrage as a video showing savage attack by three persons who hacked the man, Shankar, and his wife near a busy road on March 13, 2016 was telecast by TV channels.
In another case, a Pune court awarded death penalty to three men for raping and murdering a minor girl in Kopardi village of Maharashtra that triggered state wide protest.
A trial court in Delhi awarded life term till death to a young servant for raping and killing an 81-year-old widow at her residence here, saying it was a "brutal and diabolic" act.
Notwithstanding all these, the year gone by would go into the annals of judiciary for the history-defining decision by a five-judge constitution bench of the top court which trashed the 1,400-year-old Islamic practice of 'triple talaq' among Sunni Muslims saying it was against the basis tenets of holy Quran and Shariat.
The issue of marital rape, which has been a topic of debate, witnessed a landmark judgement from the top court which criminalised physical relations with a minor wife aged between 15 to 18 years by her husband.
However, the issue of marital rape in its entirety, an act in which a spouse indulges in sexual intercourse without the other's consent is pending consideration before the Delhi High Court.