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Published : March 22, 2017 | Author : orcinus31
Category : Law - lawyers & legal Profession | Total Views : 2311 | Rating :

Practicing Advocate with varied interests ranging from music to science to photography.

Representation of Women in the Legal Profession In India

Starting with the induction of Cornelia Sorabji into the High Court of Allahabad in 1921 to practice as an Advocate, the legal profession had thrown open its doors to the female population of India. Formally, after the passing of the Legal Practitioners' (Women) Act, XXIII of 1923 abolishing the bar on women from practising Law, Indian women were granted the right to take up the legal profession and practice as Advocates in the Courts of Law. Cornelia Sorabji had pioneered the fight for justice for the ‘’pardanashin’’ women of her times, who on account of their ignorance and lack of formal education could be easily deceived by the legal men or their touts. Their reserve and reticence inculcated by the cultural mores of the times prevented them from exercising their rights over their own properties. They could not seek assistance from male Advocates in the event of disputes simply because they were men. Though initially only a handful of women joined the profession as Advocates this reformative measure ignited the spirit of pleading for the cause of another before the Courts. Perhaps the realisation had set in; in the pre-independent era that freedom from “slavery” if it was possible could be obtained through educating women and enabling them with skills which would make them decision makers in society. That the laws could be utilised for obtaining social justice and repressive laws could be overthrown for further development, and that women could do it for themselves and others as well was an eye-opener to the Indian society of pre-independence times. It is the relentless battle by the educated and informed men and eager women of that era that paved the way for women’s entry into the noble profession of Law.

Indian Constitution in independent India has given them the right to equality and the right against discrimination on the basis of their gender from acquiring any education or practising any profession of their choice. In spite of this right, the Legal profession did not become a popular choice for women, simply because, in order to be aware of these rights the women had to have a basic level of education. And for a female population which was largely illiterate due to many reasons such as poverty, stringent caste restrictions, restrictive social customs, cultural practices condemning the working of women outside their homes,etc.,to name a few, higher education and following a profession were dreams the Independence era had managed to ignite, even, if only, it was in the form of a consciousness of being a subjugated and repressed part of the society largely contributing through many unrecognized forms of labour, underrated and underpaid as a workforce, nevertheless significant to its progress and sustenance. Interestingly, in the Western countries where adventure and naval enterprise along with Industrial revolution had brought about enormous changes in the living conditions, where feminism and feministic movements were initiated by the educated women and which countries had a literate female populace, at the least ,entry of women into the legal profession had been in 1917.The British rule had established schools, colleges and Universities for women by the 1860s in India, but, it was a far dream for many to even think of attending schools or graduating even until the 1920s. Though a few fortunate educated women some of whom qualified doctors and some writers gained recognition in the feminist movements of the times, it can be seen that they had a novel adversary in the British and European feminists who chose to define and by way of definition silence them. It became imperative for them (the educated Indian women, i.e) to know how to empower themselves to arrest further suppression.

Thus, the women of the Indian subcontinent had set out to bridge a chasm that was wider than the chasm that their occidental counterparts had set out to bridge. The daunting tasks of spreading literacy and creating awareness about their rights amongst the womenfolk in a diverse country like India took up a good twenty years. In the meanwhile the Indian Judiciary was active in its encouragement of women who took up the legal profession and went on to appoint the first woman Judge Hon’ble Justice Anna Chandy to Kerala High Court. Justice Anna Chandy had started her career as an Advocate in 1929 and had been appointed a Munsiff in 1937 thus becoming the first Woman Judge in pre-independent India. These two decades also saw the entry into the legal profession of two eminent lawyers who went on to become Honble Justice Leila Seth and Honble Justice Fathima Beevi Chief Justices of Himachal Pradesh and Kerala High Courts respectively. The former had been an actively practising advocate in the Delhi, Kolkata and Patna High Courts for more than 15 years and the latter had risen from the position of a Munsiff and had retired as a Supreme Court Judge eventually. Curiously, over the years the representation of women has not increased in the Judiciary corresponding to the initial number of women Judges. The situation is such that there has been a demand of 33% reservation for women in the Judiciary to bring about parity between the numbers of male and female judges.

Looking at the miniscule representation of women during this period (between 1950-1970) and the period thereafter till today a plausible reason for the lesser number of women opting for the legal profession could be the following:
1. The absence of female law teachers who could impart legal education to the regular law students – With the majority of women being disallowed from gaining a formal education and their roles in society relegated to the household any women reaching the corridors of higher education would have been a rare event. In as much as a woman teaching a subject like Law would have been unthinkable. Because had any women taught the Laws at that point of time, they would have come across the provision in the law barring women from practising Law since women did not come under the definition of a ‘person’!.They need not have waited untill it was sought on behalf of Cornelia Sorabji to amend the laws to include women in the definition of term ‘person’ so that women could enter the legal profession. And India had to wait till 1951 to get its first legal professional academician in the form of Lolita Sarkar.

2. The inability of female lawyers to continue their internship under Senior Male lawyers – Despite representing about 600 ‘purdahnashin’ women in the courts Cornelia Sorabji was relegated to giving legal opinions and was not much of a legal practitioner in the Kolkata High Court after independence due to her gender. Many of her successors like The Hon’ble Justice Leila Seth (retired) had experienced the apathy that women lawyers faced in these offices and the distinct refusal by the public to employ women lawyers to argue and particularly seeking Male lawyers to argue their cases.

3. The lack of law firms willing to employ women lawyers – Since most of the Law firms in the post independence days were run by members belonging to a single family it would have been unthinkable for them to employ a new unknown female lawyer. Women were probably not considered as worthily invested employee asset since they had the responsibility of childbearing and rearing and would sooner or later seek leave of absence for these responsibilities, or would have to shift to their matrimonial homes. Therefore, a women- friendly work culture that one gets to see in present times had not developed.

4. The lack of female role models – A major reason for lack of women in this profession could be the lack of role models be it as Advocates or as Academicians or Corporate Lawyers. But today especially after the introduction of new five year courses in law in which the lawyers are trained in practical legal applications for a particular period even before they enter into the profession, it has become easier for women to decide what career prospect their aptitude agrees with. Instead of seeking for role models they can themselves think about the changes which they wish to see within the legal system.

5. The public perception of law being a male-dominated profession on account of it dealing with pragmatic subjects having a direct bearing upon the status of an individual in the society and more importantly such subjects hitherto women not being empowered to deal with. Empowering women by, abolishing social evils curtailing their freedoms, educational reforms, giving them rights in properties, allowing them corporate affairs management, etc has enabled women to think for themselves and to seek resources or effective resource management for further development in their chosen fields. This in turn has led them to seek more decision making powers. In effect challenging the laws or using the laws or spreading awareness of the laws under legal aid, or volunteering for legal aid work all for their betterment has led many women to take up this profession since the 1990s.

6. Inability of Advocacy to provide a regular and stable source of livelihood in the initial stages and which initial stage could be anywhere between 7-10 years. Its common knowledge that law was practised by people who had inherited the practice from their parents or elders in the family or who had financial reserves to fall back upon in the initial days of struggle. But in the present times especially after the advent of Information technology and advancements in existing technologies many new avenues have opened up such as Cyber Law, Space Laws, Law on Intellectual Properties, Law on Biotechnology etc. But the lure of Advocacy is not so strong among the female population owing to the specialized nature of the work involved demanding greater technical knowhow along with the ability to visualise the manner in which judicial intervention is sought. Therefore, whether women will gravitate towards the corporate sector perceiving in it the genteelness that litigation lacks and the excellent growth opportunities afforded by it in comparison to the thoroughness and detailed study of the technology laws and their technical aspects and the manner in which to present it before the courts may be uncovered by the end of this decade.

The Indian legal system is not the same as it had been a decade ago and the multifarious advancements taking place within it due to technological introductions and change in the style of workings would require a period for assimilation after which further advancements may be discerned. Establishing e-courts in India will certainly improve the justice delivery system, and the resulting convenience of being able to argue online from the Advocate’s office may become a lure to the women Advocates of India to start practising or teaching on line. The lure of becoming a Judge still holds fray amongst Advocates and lawyers, but the number of female Justices has not increased over the years when compared to male Judges. But slowly and surely, the perceptions regarding the profession are turning around favourably to bring about equality in status, parity in pay and novelty in work culture acceptable to women such that more and more women will choose to enter this profession in coming years, thus, ending the gap between the number of men and women advocates.

End Notes
# https://eces.revues.org/1976
# Chronology of Nationalist Movement and Women’s Roles within it - pers-www.wlv.ac.uk.
# British Feminists and Indian Women pers-www.wlv.ac.uk
5 www.womenplanet.in/first-woman/judge-of-india
6 Leila Seth, On Balance – an Autobiography (Viking Penguin , 2008)
7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fathima_Beevi
8 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Women-lawyers-want-33-quota-injudiciary/articleshow/21196367.cms
# Leila Seth, (as n.6 above)

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