How 'feminine' is our judiciary?
The blindfolded Lady Justice with scales and a sword in her hands is a globally accepted symbol of justice. According to Greek mythology, Lady Justice is the goddess of justice. However, if we try to relate the embellished and personified woman of justice and the actual representation of women in judicial systems across the globe, we could see they are under-represented in most parts of the world.
Recently, three women were appointed as judges of the Supreme Court, taking the Indian judiciary to a historical juncture. Meanwhile, it is pertinent to note Indian Judiciary which was instituted in the year 1950 has only seen 11 Supreme Court women Judges, including the three recent appointments. After 71 years of judiciary the number of women judges in the Supreme Court raises some questions: Mathrubhumi.com approached Justice M Fathima Beevi, the first woman judge of the apex court, which remained a male bastion till 1989. Justice Fathima Beevi who is in her 90s shared her happiness and hopes. "It is good that more women are appointed as Supreme Court judges. But, if we consider representation, then we have to look into the number of women lawyers enrolled. Similarly, many girls are enrolling today for studies in law compared to the past. During my student days there were only one or two. Now that has changed. But whether they are getting opportunities is again a question. I believe both authorities and society must ponder over it," she said.
Meanwhile, if we just look into the representation of women among the sitting judges of the Supreme Court, we can see that only four out of 33 judges are women. That means women's representation is merely 12.12 percent at present. Similarly, India has seen 256 Supreme Court judges, but only 11 women were appointed to the position. That means representation of women judges in the Supreme Court over the years is just above 4 percent. Likewise, no woman has ever become a Chief Justice of India. However, one can be hopeful that Justice B V Nagarathna is lined up to become the first woman Chief Justice of India by 2027. That also means India will have the first Chief Justice of India only when the apex court completes 77 years of existence.
Advocate KV Bhadra Kumari, a lawyer-turned-women's rights activist, pinpointed that the representation of women in the Supreme Court cannot be considered in isolation and it's just a microcosm of the patriarchal society we live in. "If we look at the women representation in the High Courts we can see a similar trend like that of the Supreme Court. Or, for instance just consider representation of women in the Legislative Assembly and Parliament. In local bodies since 33 percent reservation has already been implemented, women get representation. But in the Legislative Assembly and Parliament, representation of women is meagre. So in a broader perspective, women are either under-represented or poorly represented in most of the institutions," she said.
According to advocate PK Shanthamma, who is also the newly elected president of Kerala Federation of Women Lawyers, women lawyers are as competent as their male counterparts. "We all know that both men and women lawyers are equally competent. So naturally, there should not be any disparity in their representation. Women lawyers should be elevated to higher positions. High Court Collegiums across the country should be in the forefront to imbibe more women into the legal system, " she said.
'Better late than never' says advocate Karthika on the elevation of three women judges to the Supreme Court. Karthika is also one of the newly elected vice presidents of Kerala Federation of Women Lawyers and she added that women getting more representation is a welcome and much awaited change. However, she opined that the notion 'inclusion of more women will make the legal system more women-sensitive' is not necessarily true and needs to be relooked. "Society as such should become gender sensitive . It should not be limited to the judiciary. Sensitisation should start from home," she said.
Meanwhile, as more and more transgender persons are enrolling as lawyers, a question on their represensation is also on the cards. Similarly, in social media debates, some netizens claim that gender is not the only thing that should be evaluated to judge the representation in the judiciary. They have pinpointed out other inter-sectional elements like region, caste and pedigree on the way appointments are being made. Pertinently, in a diverse country like India, such debates are very relevant.
Here is the list of the women judges in the Supreme Court so far and their timeline.
- Justice M Fathima Beevi:1989 to 1992
- Justice Sujata V Manohar:1994 to1999.
- Justice Ruma Pal: 2000 to 2006
- Justice Gyan Sudha Misra: 2010 to 2014
- Justice Ranjana P Desai: 2011 to 2014
- Justice R Banumathi: 2014 to 2020
- Justice Indu Malhotra: 2018 to present
- Justice Indira Banerjee: 2018 to present
- Justice Hima Kohli: Appointed on 2021
- Justice Nagarathna: Appointed on 2021
- Justice Trivedi: Appointed on 2021