Above: (Left) Justice AK Sikri: Are his comments valid?; Ruth Bader Ginsburg (centre) and US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Living life full size their own way
By Inderjit Badhwar
I am absolutely delighted that Professor Mohan Gopal, one of the world’s most eminent jurists, has written India Legal’s cover story this week. Not only is he an intellectual to reckon with but is also amongst the most original minds of our time—a person with passion, academic finesse and a flair for original, authoritative prose.
Consider the way he opens his piece: “Judges don’t normally make confessions.” The reader gets immediately pulled headlong into his essay. The subject matter is compelling, relevant and provocative: “Should judges have a feminine approach?” He chose to write on the subject because Supreme Court Justice AK Sikri had raised it during his farewell speech in which he described part of himself as “feminine: …It is the attribute of femininity which instills the desired sensitivity, that is required in varied types of cases and in various circumstances….”
Asks Gopal: What do we make of the significance of Justice Sikri—at his retirement, the third most senior judge in our country—voluntarily claiming the derided and derogatory label of femininity in a misogynist legal profession? Do these remarks, coming from one of India’s most senior and scholarly judges, have any larger significance for gender equality?
“Misogyny” may be too harsh a word, if I may differ with the professor. My choice would have been “male-oriented”, “discriminatory”, perhaps even “patriarchal” or “macho”. But Gopal’s head and heart are affirmatively in the right place as you continue to read his compelling piece.
I am reminded of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the iconic US Supreme Court Justice who, at age 86, having lived through and beaten two cancers and the attendant debilitating chemotherapy, continues to be a jurisprudential powerhouse, a role model for judges and students across the world, and a bastion for liberalism and the constitutional value systems of the republic created by America’s founding fathers.
“I will do this job as long as I believe I can do it full steam,” she says after having served her 26th year in the Supreme Court. In fact, Ginsburg is a prime example of the male mindset in the judicial system which is really not that different from other socio-political eco systems in the world.
To quote from one of countless biographies about her incredible life, while at Harvard University Law School, the world’s premier law institution, Ginsburg learned to balance life as a mother and her new role as a law student. “She also encountered a very male-dominated, hostile environment, with only eight females in her class of 500.
“The women were chided by the law school’s dean for taking the places of qualified males. But Ruth pressed on and excelled academically,” eventually becoming the first female member of the prestigious legal journal, Harvard Law Review. On June 27, 2010, Ginsburg’s husband, Martin, died of cancer. She described Martin as her biggest booster and “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain”.
Some of my favourite quotes from Ginsburg’s thousands of already immortal thoughts on life, society and law include: “If you just needed the skills to pass the bar, two years would be enough. But if you think of law as a learned profession, then a third year is an opportunity, for, on the one hand, public service and practice experience, but on the other, also to take courses that round out the law that you didn’t have time to do.”
“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her that meant, be your own person. Be independent.”
In America, even as older role models like Ginsburg continue as inspirational figures, younger ones exist side by side. One of them is the newly-elected firebrand Democrat from New York, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, popularly known by her initials AOC. To quote her: “Mentors of mine were under a big pressure to minimize their femininity to make it. I’m not going to do that. That takes away my power. I’m not going to compromise who I am.”
On the same subject, religious leader, author and lawyer James E Faust who died in 1987 at age 87, once intoned: “Feminity is not just lipstick, stylish hairdos and trendy clothes. It is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your qualities of your capacity to love, your spiritualities, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity and quiet strength.”
In his current article on the subject, Gopal says that Justice Sikri was not being “epicene in saying that a part of him is feminine. His purpose in doing so appears to have been to extol four qualities that he considers essential for a judge: sensitivity, mercy, compassion and a sense of justice, a so-called ‘sixth sense.’ Highlighting these values signifies Justice Sikri’s judgment that they are currently in short supply. A corollary of his proposition would be that, in their absence, their antonyms are at large—insensitivity, mercilessness, injustice and cruelty. If true, this would have a deeply corrosive impact on faith and confidence in the Republic itself as well as in our courts.”
Why are these extolled values in short supply? Or are they? Or will the greater “feminisation” of men, an evolution of consciousness as it were, have a practical impact on job discrimination, gender biases, exploitation and the hardships that women as well as men face in everyday life?
Gopal’s conclusions and observations are fascinating. His is a must-read piece in this issue.