'Not Just Slogans, Real Action Needed To Empower Women,' Says Adv Ilin Saraswat

'Not Just Slogans, Real Action Needed To Empower Women,' Says Adv Ilin Saraswat

Our own Supreme Court always lays emphasis on gender justice, but when it comes to elevating women lawyers as judges, we seem to prefer men. Justice Indu Malhotra was probably the first and last woman lawyer who was directly elevated from the bar association as the Supreme Court judge.

Ilin SaraswatUpdated: Thursday, November 30, 2023, 12:52 PM IST
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The society seriously needs to think why female representation is just nominal on most of the prolific posts in every department working for our democracy; be it politics, bureaucracy, higher judiciary, defence, railways, etc. Let me take the example of my own field. Currently, the Supreme Court has three women judges out of total 34 – that’s not even 10%. Also in our constitutional courts, the percentage of women advocates, specifically seniors among them, is extremely less as compared to their male counterparts.

Look at another example. In India, there are any number of central and state universities, but how many women hold vicechancellors’ positions? Recently, the Parliament passed a so-called women reservation bill, which actually is not going to help them for many years. The reason is that the bill has conditions riddled with so many sub-conditions that will take years to be satisfied. Let’s go further with another example from my field. When bar association elections take place, you rarely see a woman candidate contesting for the president post. It's also disheartening to witness that even the best and topmost bar in India, the Supreme Court Bar Association, has not seen a women president in recent years. In my humble opinion, women are better leaders compared to men. Take the instance of Indira Gandhi who was one of our best prime ministers – a true Iron Lady. Then there is the United States Vice President, Kamala Harris, who is doing wonders. The last chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, recently retired after leading her country for 16 years. Queen Elizabeth is another example of a confident and strong leader.

You will be amused to know that our own Supreme Court will have its first woman chief justice in the coming years when Justice BV Nagarathna assumes the post for a short tenure in 2027. It’s quite surprising that our highest constitutional court, which always talks about women empowerment, will have the first woman chief justice of India after 79 years of independence. I have a big complaint with our Supreme Court Collegium: Why don’t they elevate the learned and fairly neutral woman counsels practising in the apex court as the judges of the top court or high courts? The women are leading by example as pilots, armed forces personnel, IPS officers and legal professionals. Then why are we not witnessing more women judges in our constitutional courts?

Even in our Union government, there is a nominal percentage of female MPs working as Cabinet ministers. Out of all the states in India, only West Bengal has a woman chief minister. What kind of women reservation and gender equality are we talking about? Despite having a number of efficient female IPS officers and inspectors, rarely do we see a woman IPS officer as a district police chief.

Our own Supreme Court always lays emphasis on gender justice, but when it comes to elevating women lawyers as judges, we seem to prefer men. Justice Indu Malhotra was probably the first and last woman lawyer who was directly elevated from the bar association as the Supreme Court judge. The age-old patriarchal system needs to be discarded and half of all important posts in the country should go to women.

Our own Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Dr DY Chandrachud, says that on the question of fewer women judges in constitutional courts, I always explain that we draw upon a pool of available talent unlike in the United States where you can make a senator a judge directly. I humbly ask the Hon’ble CJI: Who holds the responsibility of increasing that particular dimension of the talent pool? Of course, higher judiciary and the collegium headed by you, Lordship. It’s high time that we take action for empowering women rather than just sloganeering for the cause.

(The writer practises at the Supreme Court)

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