First time, today, the Supreme Court of India celebrated International Day of Women Judges as per resolution of UN General Assembly. On this occasion the CJI Justice N V Ramana spoke. The following is the full text of CJI’s address:
At the outset, I would like to thank the Secretary-General and Registrars of the Supreme Court, Registrars-General of various High Courts and the Technical Staff of Supreme Court and all the courts across the country and NIC for organizing this event at a very short notice of two days. I appreciate the round the clock efforts that you have made to make this programme a success.
I am given to understand that about 6,000 Judges from across the country have joined this programme. I am told more than 8,000 viewers are watching this programme now online. I welcome you all.
It was my Sister Ms. Justice Hima Kohli who reminded me of this ‘Day’. I must admit, only after that reminder, I solicited the suggestions of all the Sister Judges from Supreme Court and instructed the Registry to organise this event accordingly.
I am glad to learn that India was among the nations that sponsored the resolution moved by Qatar before the United Nations General Assembly which resulted in 10th of March being declared as “International Day of Women Judges”. I am extremely glad to be a part of its first ever celebration.
My life has been shaped by strong and exemplary women. I grew up as the youngest brother to two sisters. My mother, though not highly educated, was worldly-wise and taught me invaluable lessons of life. For the last nearly four decades, I am being supported and guided by the wise counsel of my wife. I am also a proud father of two daughters. Bringing them up was a great learning for me. All these women in my life have deeply influenced the way I think and act.
I am wholly conscious of the systemic prejudices women have been facing, particularly in the Indian society. One of the main reason for the continuing battle of women in spite of acquiring sufficient skills and knowledge is the lack of adequate representation at the helm of affairs.
We have marched to a stage where women are in a position to compete with the men, in every walk of life. All that they need is the right opportunity to show-case their skills.
It is imperative for the justice delivery system to be in the forefront of progressive change. Now we are having 4 women judges in the Supreme Court which is the highest ever in its history. In near future, we shall be witnessing the first ever female Chief Justice of India. But, I think, we are still far away from ensuring at least 50% representation of women in our judiciary. The legal profession still remains male dominated, with severe under-representation of women.
I have been trying to do my best to correct this imbalance in our judicial system. After I assumed the office of Chief Justice of India, we have so far filled 9 vacancies in the Supreme Court out of which 3 vacancies were filled with women. I thank my Brother judges in the Collegium Justice Lalit, Justice Khanwilkar, Justice Chandrachud and Justice Nageswara Rao.
For the High Courts, we have recommended so far 192 candidates. Out of these, 37, that is 19% were women. This is certainly an improvement over the percentage of incumbent women judges in High Courts which stands at 11.8%. Unfortunately, so far only 17 of the 37 women recommended to High Courts were appointed. Others are still pending with the Government.
There are numerous factors behind the under-representation of women in judiciary. The primary reason is deeply ingrained patriarchy in our society. Women often have to face hostile atmosphere within the courtrooms. Harassment, lack of respect from members of the Bar and Bench, the silencing of their opinions, are some of the other traumatic experiences often recounted by many women lawyers. Resultantly, out of nearly 17 lakhs advocates registered in the country, only 15% are women. The absence of inclusivity in the thought process sustains this anomaly.
A good number of women law graduates are compelled to give up their professional ambitions due to societal expectations. We need to create enabling environment for women to pursue their career in law. Balancing personal and professional life is a huge challenge for women. Though they excel as students, the domestic issues prevent them from pursuing their passion. This is where the family, fellow members of the Bar and the Bench need to provide necessary encouragement.
A woman being a natural multi-tasker is bound to succeed in any given profession. But, if she is dependent on only a few personal briefs which come her way, her appearance before the courts is minimised. The bench will also not be in a position to recognise her. Hence, women should be given preference while making appointments as panel advocates which will pave their path to the bench. The need of the hour is sensitisation and emphasis on inclusivity.
The presence of women as judges and lawyers, will substantially improve the justice delivery system. The presence of women on the Bench and in the Bar has more than a symbolic importance. They bring to the law a different perspective, one that is built upon their experience. They also have a more nuanced understanding of the differing impacts that certain laws may have on men and women.
For instance, Cornelia Sorabji who was the first woman to study law at Oxford, in 1892, returned to India, and worked extensively with women in purdah. She provided them with much needed legal assistance which they never had before.
The first woman Judge of the Supreme Court, Fathima Beevi, was born in a small village in Kerala. Having lived through hostile male dominated legal profession, she was an important voice on the bench.
Often women feel deterred in reporting certain offences due to lack of representation in the criminal justice system. A strategic investment in diverse judiciary will bring in exemplary changes in accessing justice as well.
The issues confronting women are no longer private affairs of women. One of the marks of a progressive nation is the condition of female population.
Women too are stakeholders in this system and they must become a substantial part of it. Most importantly, the injustices faced by women are compounded by intersectional issues of socio-economic conditions. Therefore, we need women from all classes and sections to find a place within the judicial system. The dream of fair and equitable society, will come true when women, from all backgrounds have a say.
Every woman’s struggle and experience is unique to herself. Growth in jurisprudence will occur only when our Bar and Benches have diverse voices. Diversity of experience brings in diversity in opinions.
We are definitely in need of more women judges from rural background. The atrocities faced by rural women or women from marginalised communities are often under reported and go un- noticed by many. The District Judiciary being the first point of contact, needs to be sensitive to the needs of women and children.
There is much to be done. The recognition of 10th March as ‘International Day of Women Judges’ is an important step to create awareness and mobilise political will. I am a strong proponent of affirmative action. To enrich the pool of talent, I strongly propose reservation for girls in legal education. The data proves such a provision has yielded encouraging results in appointing women judicial officers at the district level.
Telangana with 52%, Assam with 46%, Andhra Pradesh with 45%, Odisha with 42%, Rajasthan with 40% of women among Judicial Officers have done well with reservation for women. I strongly feel that the policy of providing reservation to women needs to be replicated at all levels and in all the States.
I hope events such as today’s, inspire young and talented girls to study law and join the profession. I urge all the stakeholders, to pledge towards an inclusive and equitable future, where gender will no longer be a barrier towards achieving one’s dreams.
The promises of equality in our Constitution must translate to substantive equality for all women in the country.
At an event organised by women advocates in Delhi, I had borrowed from Karl Marx and said, “Women of the world, unite; You have nothing to lose but your chains.” That call of mine was sought to be projected as instigating a revolution. If giving women their due share is a revolution, I would be very happy to be branded as a revolutionary. I whole heartedly welcome such a revolution.