Distinguished guests from the legal fraternity shared their concerns about scant representation of women in the profession at the weekly India Legal show
At a time when women in India have broken the glass ceiling and established their supremacy in almost every conceivable field, it is sad to note that they are still an abject minority in judiciary as compared to men. There is a yawning gap between the numbers when it comes to judges and senior lawyers in higher judiciary, not to talk about women judges in particular.
The first women bench was made 66 years after Independence in 2013—Justices Gyan Sudha Misra and Ranjana Prakash Desai were made members of the bench in the Supreme Court. Till date, only six female judges have been appointed in the Supreme Court and the top court of the country today has only one judge. The number of judges in high courts is 611 and only 62 of them are women.
What are the reasons behind this under-representation? Is it gender discrimination? Or are women less capable of becoming top-class lawyers in our country? Do they abjure the legal profession per se due to the pressures of balancing work and family life and threat to security? Why is the balance so lop-sided despite the fact that girls are making a beeline for law colleges in India?
On the other hand, the judiciary has always stood by women in their fight for equality, and against all kinds of oppression in society. There are remarkable cases and verdicts in the annals of the judiciary which have changed the face of women in India, be it the Shah Bano case or the Vishakha case.
The latest India Legal show on APN had some distinguished guests on its panel who discussed the issue threadbare.
Talking about the position of women in the judiciary, senior advocate in the Supreme Court, Bina Gupta, said: “It is still a male dominated profession. Today, we have only one female judge in the Supreme Court.”
For Supreme Court senior lawyer, Meenakshi Arora, family pressure is one of the main reasons why there are only a handful of women in the judiciary. “A large chunk of women leave the profession due to personal reasons, either objection from family or problems after marriage,” she pointed out.
Former judge in the Supreme Court Justice Gyan Sudha Misra pointed out the trust deficit at the macro level for women in the judiciary. “When it comes to giving responsibility to women, they get skeptical. Why? I always agreed to brother judges but they seldom agreed to mine.” India Legal Associate, Mary Mitzy could not agree more. She said: “It is difficult for anyone to gain the trust that you have it in you to argue commendably in the court, but when it comes to women the challenge becomes more difficult.”
Kamini Jaiswal, senior advocate, talked about the atmosphere in courts. She said: “Surviving in this atmosphere and making a space for oneself is very difficult. Many girls have been used and exploited. Women have to struggle a lot. They have to travel a long way.” Agreeing with her views, Professor Ritu Gupta from NLU said: “When I researched on sexual harassment cases, many people said that this topic should be thrown into the dustbin. Now, women are opening up and they have started coming out.”
Almost rubbing it in that women always give their best in a case, Jaiswal said: “Women are more sensitive, so their involvement in the cases is much more. And so, we are called hysterical. But if a man shouts in the court, he is applauded. Men’s arguments are considered as a good job but when it comes to women, it is considered as panic-stricken.”
All the experts emphasized that the mindset needs to be changed. Meenakshi Arora said: “Now, the time has come where women representation can increase.” Justice Gyan Sudha Misra pointed out that rather than saying theoretically that gender discrimination should be abolished, one should trust the abilities of women.
Senior lawyer Bina Gupta said that the judges in high courts welcome juniors but it is not the same in the Supreme Court. She pointed out: “There, they want professionals and we are not considered professionals, even today.” Talking about the struggles of women, Professor Ritu Gupta said: “The road for women is more bumpier as compared to men.”
—Compiled by Srishti Sonewal
Lead photo: Anil Shakya