Women in the legal field: A battle won?
The attainment of success has always been more difficult for a woman than a man in any field. The reason behind the same being the patriarchal thread underlying the Indian society. Women have always been expected to succumb to the orthodox homogenized idea of an ideal woman. The growth of women in the legal field seems to have gone through its similar share of struggle. However, gender is no longer as potent a deterrent as it used to be in the scope of the legal profession. The presence of many profound women, in the past and contemporary society, in the field of law evinces the same.
The Foundation Establishers:
The emergence and development of women in the legal field is not a sudden phenomenon. It is rather the remnant of a tiresome and tedious battle led by many wonderful women. It is the result of the efforts made by those who dared to dream in the hours of stringent patriarchal arrangements. The approbation for the women who are succeeding in the legal field must not only be ascribed to them but also to their venerable veterans who had struggled fiercely to gain the long due recognition and appreciation for women who aspired to leave a mark in the legal arena. Some of these are:
Cornelia Sorabji can be said to have a number of firsts to her credit. She was the first female advocate of India. Sorabji was a graduate of Bombay. She became the first woman to read law at Oxford University in the year 1889 University and also the first-ever woman to have started her practice from the Allahabad High Court. Moreover, she was also the first-ever Indian to study at any British University. Cornelia was homeschooled by her father in her early childhood years. It was extremely difficult for her to acquire a seat at Bombay University, owing to the fact that she was a woman. However, she faced and aced every difficulty thrown at her face, and even topped her college. She took the Bachelor of Civil Laws exam at Somerville College, making her, yet again, the first woman to ever do so in 1892. She decided to return to India in 1894 in order to work for the betterment of the living conditions of women in India. However, it was no path of roses even in her homeland. She had to face many impediments in her professional arena and led a constant battle for many years in order to gain recognition as a barrister. Finally, it was in the year 1924 that her tussle with orthodox mindset ended and the legal profession was opened to women. It was the tireless efforts of Cornelia Sorabji which homogenized the idea of women, not just practicing but prospering, in law.
Anna Chandy, a Syrian Christian, raised in Trivandrum was the first woman in her state to have acquired a degree in law. She attained the same in 1929 and was appointed to the Bar. She started practicing as a barrister and earned great eminence in cases related to criminal matters. She became the first female judge in India in the year 1937. Later on, she also happened to become the first female judge to be appointed in the High Court on 9 February 1959 in India and among all the commonwealth nations. She was often considered to be the first generation, Indian feminist. One of the most significant reasons behind this shade of her personality was the matrilineal traditions followed by the Nair community, the community in which she was born. After her retirement in the year 1967, she served as a member of the National Law Commission and led to many considerable transformations.
Meera Sahib Fatima Bibi
Meera Sahib Fatima Bibi was born on April 30, 1927, at Pathananthitta in the state of Travancore to Annaveetil Meera Sahib and Khadeeja Bibi. Fathima Beevi, graduated from Government Law College, Thiruvananthpuram, was the first female judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court of India in the year 1989. She also became the first Indian woman to top the Bar Council of India’s exam. Moreover, she also happened to be the first Muslim woman to be appointed to any of the higher judicial authorities. In the later years of her life, she served as a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and also as the governor of the state of Tamil Nadu. She received the Hon. D Litt and Mahila Shiromani Award and the Bharat Jyoti Award.
Leila Seth, born on 20 October 1930, was the first woman Chief Justice of a State High Court in 1991. She was also the first woman judge of Delhi High Court. Seth was a member of the 15th Law Commission of India and led to many considerable transformations like amendments to the Hindu Succession Act that gave equal rights to daughters in the joint family property. Leila Seth, in the year 1958, appeared for the London Bar exam. She topped in the same exam at the mere age of 27, leading her to become the first woman to do so. Finally, it was in 1959 that she joined the bar and also cleared the civil services examination as an IAS officer. Leila Seth started her practice from the Patna High Court and continued there for 10 years and in the year 1972, she decided to move to Delhi. Her areas of expertise have been taxation matters, criminal and company matters. She had always been very vocal about the impediments faced by her in the field of law simply because of her gender. She was misjudged, underestimated and de-motivated for choosing a career like law even after being a woman. However, her splendid success in the field of law closed many such filthy mouths.
The Contemporary Legal Maestros:
There are many women in India who are leading the legal field and setting examples of excellence for those who aspire to achieve heights in the legal profession. They are constantly proving their possessed ability to achieve the peak of success in the legal field by doing legal wonders and making credible transformations in the legal arena. Some of these inspiringly feisty females are:
in cases related to Arbitration and Conciliation. She pursued her degree of Bachelor of Laws from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. She enrolled herself with the Bar Council of Delhi and joined the legal profession in the year 1983. She became the second Indian woman to be designated by the Supreme Court after around thirty years. Indu Malhotra has represented various statutory bodies including SEBI, ICAR, DDA, etc. Some of her famous cases are Harshad C. Modi Vs. DLF, Hindustan Poles Corporation vs. Commissioner of Central Excise, P.R. Shah, Shares and Stock Broker (P) Ltd. Vs. B.H.H. Securities (P) Ltd, Jaya Shah Vs. Bombay Stock Exchange.
Flavia Agnes, born in Mumbai, primarily spent her childhood in a small town called Kadri. She completed her LLB in the year 1988 and started practicing from the Mumbai High Court. Her areas of expertise are Property, Marital and Divorce laws. Flavia Agnes has always been concerned with women’s rights and has been making unfettering efforts towards the same. She was awarded the Bharatiya Manavata Vikas Puraskar in 2018 for providing the much required legal support to poor and marginalized women.
Maneka Guruswamy is a Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India. She pursued law from the National Law School of India, Bangalore. Later on, she pursued LL.M from the Harvard Law School and then attained an advanced degree in the same from Oxford University, London. She is a proponent of human rights and has been attached with many landmark cases that have supported the same such as the Navtej Singh Johar case which challenged the constitutionality of section 377 and led to the decriminalization of homosexuality. Moreover, she also advocated the constitutionality of Section 12(1)(c) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 in the Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. Union of India. Her name was featured in the Forbes India’s List of Women-Power Trailblazer, 2019.
Shreya Singhal belongs to a family of many renowned advocates. She pursued law from the Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law at Delhi University. She played a very crucial role in the striking down of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 through the case Shreya Singhal v. Union of India. This section dealt with the imposition of unreasonable restrictions on online speech. Singhal filed a petition against the same section for being an infringement of the fundamental right to freedom of free speech and expression. The same section was held, by the court, as unconstitutional on the grounds of the violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
The list can go on and on. There are many inspiring women who have aced the legal field, effortlessly. They have set the example by proving that hard work, determination and dedication can overcome all sorts of encumbrances. Moreover, they proved that the shackles of societal stereotypes aren’t strong enough if there exists an ardent will to achieve something. They turned their own aspirations into inspiration for others.
Edited by Ojaswi Gupta
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje