A tale of two speeches on women in judiciary: While CJI Ramana blames stereotypes, Justice Pratibha Singh asks women to fight them

During a recent event organised for felicitating Justice Hima Kohli of the Supreme Court, CJI, N.V. Ramana and Justice Pratibha M. Singh of the Delhi High Court offered two different perspectives on how women can realise their aspirations in the legal profession, writes SHWETA VELAYUDHAN.


THE Chief Justice of India (CJI) N. V. Ramana, on Tuesday, remarked on the low representation of women in the legal profession and the judiciary. While speaking at a function organised by Women in Law and Litigation (WILL) to felicitate Justice Hima Kohli, the CJI promised to take up the demand for more women judges with the Supreme Court collegium.

The demand for higher representation beyond 50% on the bench was taken note of by the CJI. “I will definitely place this demand before the members of the collegium and I will tell my brother judges and the Chief Justices of different High Courts,” the CJI said, addressing the audience of female Supreme Court and High Court judges and senior lawyers.

Also Read: 400+ HC judges’ posts lying vacant; poor women’s representation in higher judiciary

In September this year, the CJI had pressed for 50% representation of women in the judiciary. Observing that it is their right and not a matter of charity, the CJI had then said, “I want to remind all of you of what Karl Marx said … ‘workers of the World unite, you have nothing to lose, but your chains’. I will modify this: ‘women of the World unite. You have nothing to lose, but your chains’,”.

In his address on Tuesday, the CJI referring to his modified Karl Marx remarks, shared with the audience that “Thereafter, some organisation has sent a communication to the concerned people in the highest (authority), saying that the Chief Justice is provoking revolution”.

“The various barriers which women are facing – the continued prevalence of certain attitudes about the role of women in society, is an issue that a woman faces regardless of the type of employment.” : CJI N.V. Ramana 

Remarking that only 30% of the judges in the subordinate judiciary and 10-11% in the High Courts and Supreme Court are women, the CJI further said that, “The various barriers which women are facing – the continued prevalence of certain attitudes about the role of women in society, is an issue that a woman faces regardless of the type of employment.”

Also Read: Explainer: Ensuring social diversity in the appointment of judges

“Another issue is the bias that women face, whether from their colleagues or litigants. This bias affects not just women advocates, but also those on the Bench. This creates an unwelcome atmosphere,” said the CJI. He concluded his remarks by saying that it is the duty of the lawyers and the judges to ensure a different environment is created. He also stressed upon the participation of women in strengthening the judicial infrastructure, citing that 22-25% of courts in India do not have restroom facilities.

At present, the Supreme Court has the highest number of women judges at four. The appointment of Justice B.V. Nagarathna will lead to the Supreme Court almost certainly seeing its first-ever woman Chief Justice of India in 2027.

Sitting alongside the CJI at the dais were Supreme Court judges Justice Indira Banerjee, Justice Hima Kohli, Delhi High Court judges Justice Mukta Gupta, Justice Pratibha M. Singh, Justice Rekha Palli, senior advocates Rebecca M. John and Maninder Acharya.

In her address, Justice Singh, referring to female advocates practising before the Delhi High Court who were designated as senior advocates said that, at the time, “Women had to be twice as better to make it as senior counsels.”

Justice Singh also remarked that hybrid courts, which have been brought about due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to several women advocates resuming their practice upon being able to prepare and appear from their homes. Women should take advantage of the hybrid courts’ system, opined Justice Singh.

Also Read: Women lawyers seek the option of virtual or hybrid hearings to continue

While concluding her address, Justice Singh observed that when young women consult her for career advice, she tells them not to seek sympathy from the court, the opposing counsel, or their own clerks, on the basis of familial obligations. “You don’t have to tell them or tell the court that ‘my child is unwell’ or ‘I have to pick up my daughter from school’. Please don’t do that, because that stereotypes you. You should know how to manage your time and manage it in a competent manner.”

“Women had to be twice as better to make it as senior counsels.”: Justice Pratibha Singh

“Secondly, always be ahead of the curve. Read, be competent. Give up your Bollywood movies. Give up your shopping. Give up your parlour time. And dedicate it to law, and then you will see – within ten years, you will be there,” said Justice Singh in her address, stressing that competence and hard work are required to be successful in the profession.

Click here to watch the full video of the speeches.

(Shweta Velayudhan is a corporate lawyer who is a consultant, primarily in the field of labour and employment law, and a part of the outreach team at The Leaflet.)
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