By Chayanika Joshi
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day today on March 8 with the theme ‘gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,’ India celebrates another first in the Judiciary. This is for the first time that the Supreme Court has four sitting women judges, who have made a niche for themselves, with their grit and determination. They are Justice Indira Banerjee, Justice Hima Kohli, Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice B.V. Nagarathna.
From the first woman Justice in the Supreme Court, Fathima Beevi, who was appointed on October 6, 1989, India has come a long way, having 11 Justices in the Apex Court, with four women Judges currently out of the total 33(including the Chief Justice of India).
“Women of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains,” Chief Justice of India Justice N.V. Ramana said at a function to felicitate Justice Hima Kohli by the organisation Women in Law and Litigation. By altering Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s famous quote from The Communist Manifesto, Justice Ramana gave a clarion call to women in Judiciary to come together and demand for 50 percent representation, calling it their “long-due right”.
“With your anger, you shout, you demand, we need 50 percent representation. It is not a small issue; issue of thousands of years of suppression. You are entitled, it is a matter of right. Nobody is going to give a charity,” he stressed.
The event was a few months after three women Judges took oath as Supreme Court Judges on August 31, 2021, CJI Ramana had said, “The Supreme Court has only four women judges as of now. This is the highest representation of women at the top, ever.”
“We may realise and reach this goal in the Apex Court and as well as other courts. I gathered some information about the system where we are working. In the entire country, our subordinate judiciary has less than 30 per cent (women representation). In High Courts, women judges are 11.5 per cent, in Supreme Court only 11-12 per cent are women,”
-he said. The CJI had pointed out that even though some women lawyers manage to reach the top of the legal profession, basic amenities were lacking to serve them, such as the absence of restrooms in lower courts.
In 1989, Justice M. Fatima Beevi was the first woman to be appointed as a judge in the Supreme Court of India. She was appointed 39 years after the Supreme Court was instituted. Since then, 11 women have been appointed as judges in the Supreme Court.
Six years after Justice Fatima Beevi, Justice Sujata V Manohar was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1994. Justice Manohar was previously the first woman Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court.
Among the four sitting women Judges in the Apex Court right now in the order of seniority are Justice Indira Banerjee, Justice Hima Kohli, Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice B.V. Nagarathna.
Justice Indira Banerjee was born on September 24, 1957. Justice Banerjee is the 8th woman to be a judge in the Supreme Court. She graduated from Presidency College and received her LL.B from College of Law, Calcutta University. In February 2002, she was appointed as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court.
She was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court on August 7, 2018 and became the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court on April 5, 2017. Justice Banerjee became Permanent Judge of the Delhi High Court on August 8, 2016 and Permanent Judge of the Calcutta High Court on February 5, 2002.
Recently, Justice Banerjee, while taking up a petition seeking ban on movie Gangubai Kathiawadi, recalled her meeting with a 14-year-old victim of prostitution. “This court recognises the ignominy of harassment that such people have to go through… If you ask me personally, I have every respect for those women who are pushed like this. I used to head the West Bengal Legal Services Authority and before that, I used to head the Calcutta High Court Legal Aid Committee.”
“Even today, it sends goose pimples when I think about a 14-year-old girl who was not getting four square meals. She was being brought by an aunt who could not fend for herself. Some aunt in her locality told her to come to Bombay for a job in a restaurant,”
–Justice Banerjee said.
“She agreed to go to Mumbai thinking she will able to get four square meals. In Bengali, she said I will get four times rice to eat. When she went there she was abused by multiple men. Everyone wanted a young girl. Some of them insisted that she satisfied them unprotected. Fortunately, she was able to escape with the help of one of her clients. She contracted HIV. It still sends shivers. She caught my hand and asked what wrong have I done,”
-she said, adding that this is the plight of people who are there.
“I do not look down upon anyone,” she added.
Justice Hima Kohli was born on September 2, 1959 in New Delhi. She did her schooling from St. Thomas’ Girls Senior Secondary School, Mandir Marg, New Delhi. In 1979, she earned a BA in History from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. She then completed a postgraduate degree in History from the University of Delhi, and a degree in law from the Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi. Kohli enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi in 1984.
She practiced law in Delhi, acting as a counsel for the New Delhi Municipal Council between 1999 and 2004, as well as representing the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. She was also appointed as a legal adviser to several Delhi and Central government bodies.
On May 29, 2006, Kohli was appointed as an additional judge on the Delhi High Court, and her appointment was made permanent on August 29, 2007. During her tenure with the Delhi High Court, she wrote several notable orders and judgments, including calling for inquiries into the detention of prisoners who had already been granted bail, protecting the identity of juveniles accused of crime, and the provision of facilities to enable visually-challenged people to study in government educational institutions.
In 2020, Kohli headed a judicial committee that monitored the Delhi Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in India. She rebuked the Central Government and the Indian Council for Medical Research for delaying approvals that would allow private laboratories to conduct testing in relation to the pandemic.
In 2021, Kohli was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Telangana High Court, becoming the first woman to occupy that position since it was separated from the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 2019. Justice Kohli took oath as a Supreme Court Judge on August 31, 2021.
Justice Bela Mandhurya Trivedi was born on June 10, 1960 in Patan, Gujarat. Her father served as Judge of the City Civil and Sessions Court, Ahmedabad. While growing up, she pursued her schooling at various schools due to her father’s transferable judicial service.
She graduated from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat in Commerce. She then pursued LL.B and enrolled as a lawyer on September 18, 1983. On July 10, 1995, she was appointed Judge of the City Civil and Sessions Court, Ahmedabad. When she was appointed as Judge in the City Civil and Sessions Court, Ahmedabad, her father was also serving as a Judge in the same court. The Limca Book of Indian Records did a cover story in its 1996 edition on them, titled “Father-daughter judges in the same court.”
She served as Law Secretary to the Gujarat government from 2003 to 2006. On February 17, 2011, she was appointed an additional Judge of Gujarat High Court. She was appointed as Judge of Gujarat High Court on February 9, 2016. She was appointed as permanent Judge of Rajasthan High Court on February 6, 2013. On August 31, 2021, she took oath as a Supreme Court Judge.
Justice Bangalore Venkataramiah Nagarathna, born on October 30, 1962, is a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court. She served as a judge of the Karnataka High Court from 2008 to 2021. She is the daughter of former Chief Justice of India, E.S. Venkataramiah.
She enrolled with the Bar Council of Karnataka in 1987 and practiced constitutional and commercial law in Bangalore before being appointed as an additional judge of the Karnataka High Court in 2008. She was appointed as a permanent judge on 17 February 2010.
In May 2020, B.V. Nagarathna was reported as being considered for appointment to the Supreme Court of India, leading a number of commentators to note that this would make her eligible to become the first woman Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court.
On August 26, 2021, she was appointed as a Judge of Supreme Court of India and took oath on August 31, 2021. She has delivered a number of significant judgments relating to commercial and constitutional law in Karnataka.
In 2009, she and another judge, Venkate Gopala Gowda, were unlawfully detained, along with the then-Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, P.D. Dinakaran, by a group of protesting lawyers in the High Court. The incident occurred following the declaration of a boycott of courts by lawyers’ association, who were protesting allegations of corruption against P.D. Dinakaran.
They were later released by the protesting lawyers. Following the incident, Nagarathna made a public statement, saying, “We cannot be cowed down like this. We have taken the oath of Constitution.”
As these Judges and other women judges and advocates break on through the glass ceiling, the day is not far away when the Supreme Court will boast of a better female representation, with the country’s first woman Chief Justice of India calling the shots!