International Women’s day, celebrated every year across the globe on 8th of March was provided with a new theme to mark the year of 2021. The theme was “choose to challenge”. A world with challenging folks signifies a growing, developing and optimistic world and there exists nothing better than a woman being recognised as a responsible individual to take up such a challenge. The presence of one female justice among eight justices in the bench while dealing with the landmark case of Sabarimala Temple in relation to entry of female devotees itself reflects how male-dominated the legal profession in India is. A particular study showed that when a greater number of women legal professionals coming from the lower age groups join the profession, the same reflects a growing preference for the legal profession as their first choice of career. But with the age of retirement from the Bar being 65 for women in India, the scope for female judges in the higher courts becomes convergent. “Society benefits when gender diversity is found on bench” said Justice Indu Malhotra after her commendable professional career retired on 12th of March, 2021 leaving behind only one female justice in the Apex Court which itself calls for an immediate appointment of a female judge in the apex court.
Breaking stereotypes in the legal profession with thought-provoking arguments
“When you fight powerful people, and you have only truth on your side, the journey becomes very relevant to you personally”, said Senior Advocate Rebecca John after a victorious win in the MJ Akbar defamation case thereby putting a step forward towards societal progress by means of encouraging women to reason out their voices when required. In this very case, another notable female advocate who provided the best of her arguments was Advocate Indira Jaising. Advocate Jaising exclaimed, “Whether this judgement will bring hope to the #MeToo movement remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it is the first real success of the #MeToo movement in India, and that it vindicates the movement itself.” Amidst the male dominated corners of the court, Advocate Indira Jaising came a long way to become the first woman to acquire the position of Additional Solicitor General of India, and the first Indian woman to be appointed to the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women. She has also received the Padma Shri by the Indian government for the felicitation of her exceptional social service.
Another classic example of female advocates successfully breaking stereotypes with their opinions are Advocate Meneka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju. While the country rejoiced over the Apex Court’s decision of abrogating Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, these two advocates were leading the battle standing in the forefront. A professional benchmark and a personal win for both Advocate Guruswamy and Katju, the case of decriminalization of Section 377 was an international success for them. Advocate Gurusawamy said that, “ for queer folk in all post-colonial countries, the governments have to understand that these (anti-sodomy) were not laws”, hoping that the verdict of the Supreme Court of India will act as a beacon for other countries that still have anti-gays laws to open up channels for reform.
Although Advocate Seema Kushwaha is familiarly known as the voice of Nirbhaya, she is unfamiliar among the crowds claim themselves to be associated with the Nirbhaya gang rape case of 2012. Not much of a media coverage was noticed when it came to the lawyer who stood by Nirbhaya’s parents in the trial of the case which indeed resulted in questions like whether we as a society neglect the individuals who solely dedicate themselves to provide justice to the people and thereby contributing to a sociological metamorphosis. “The moment I took up the case, I decided I won’t let go till justice was done. I could feel the pain Nirbhaya had gone through. Her will power to survive for 12 days pushed me to succeed”, said Advocate Kushwaha in many of her interviews. While these are few to mention, there lies hundreds of other female advocates all over the country who have significantly showed the need for handling stereotypes logically by means of thought-provoking arguments.
Highlighting notable female advocates and their contribution in the Indian Judicial system
Notable writer Twinkle Khanna had once in an award show said that for centuries women have been looking for a cape and have been handed an apron and it is only recently they have learnt how to swing their aprons around and let it flatter on their backs and take to the skies. This anecdote takes us to the only lawyer who has set benchmarks by appearing in both Supreme Court of India and USA during the same term, keeping a decent balance between her legal careers on both sides of this world, Mishi Choudhary. The lawyer who has voiced for issues surrounding net neutrality, has also been the reason behind the establishment of an online platform based in India, formulated with the aim to ensure digital freedom, recognised by the name of slfc.in. With the world gradually accepting changes brought by the digital era, contributions by technology lawyers like Mishi Choudhary are indeed remarkable. The aspect of human rights gains relevance in every kind of environment.
Noteworthy contributions have been made by some female advocates that restricted the discussion surrounding human rights to be shadowed. Vrinda Grover is one such name. Recognized as one among the top 10 female lawyers in the Indian territory followed by one among the 100 powerful females of 2013 by the TIME Magazine, Vrinda Grover brought in a significant shift in perceiving women rights in India. Being a researcher and a writer alongside the divergent legal profession, Vrinda Grover bestowed her skills in drafting of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010. Followed by this her engagement with human rights mechanisms of the United Nations that includes both the UN Special Rapporteurs and the Universal Periodic Review. Being a member of the UN Women India Civil Society Advisory Group, South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR) her tireless work towards securing human rights of women and children, custodial tortures, extrajudicial killings continue to see the daylight.
A familiar name among the extraordinary female lawyers who has worked in the areas of both technology and human rights, fighting thoroughly for remedying injustice for the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and exhaustively being involved in the drafting of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013 is Advocate Karuna Nundy. With the Apex Court scrapping Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in the landmark case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the role played by Ms Nundy was instrumental. She continues to fight for the purpose of good and with the care of making a positive contribution by clinching justice and fairness.
With growing awareness, the true picture of a courtroom and how female lawyers and judges are perceived by their male counterparts have been revealed now and then. Behind the guise of tremendous lag in gender representation, all that one can propagate is the need for more female lawyers and judges in the Indian legal system, but what about the women who have fought and fight the suppression every day to prove to be an essential functionary in law firms, corporate bodies, in the sphere of education, companies and so on? The forever prevailing gender hierarchy and the male voices finding a stronger ground in the system has somewhat normalised the usage of the expressions such as the legal system predominantly being a ‘man’s world.’ But on the other hand, to set an example, one cannot ignore the work, success and achievements of Ms Zia Mody, listed by Forbes India (2013,2014 and 2015) as one of India’s 10 most powerful women and the founding partner of AZB& partners. Therefore, the fight for equal representation will always fall behind if this major strata of women working on this side of the legal system are ignored.