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Why Supreme Court had only six Women Judges out of 229 in its 66 years?

April,4,2016:

At present, of the 24 High Courts, nine do not have a single woman Judge.

Women Judges in SC
Women Judges in SC

Women have periodically stormed many male bastions. I will not cite greats like Lata Mangeshkar or M S Subbulakshmi to drive home the point. But Indra Nooyi, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chanda Kochar, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Ekta Kapoor, Shahnaz Hussain are only a few among the many successful women who have done exceedingly well in a male-dominated world.

We all know Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest in 1984. We also know Santosh Yadav, the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest twice. But do we know who Arunima Sinha is?

At the age of 24 in 2011, Sinha preferred to fight a gang of thugs in a moving train than surrender her gold chain. They threw her out of the train. One of her legs was amputated. Three years later, she scaled Mount Everest to become the world’s first woman amputee to achieve the feat. Such stories never get eyeballs on social media. Absence of glamour? In the world of Nooyis, Shaws and Kochars, how many of us know Jyoti J Naik.

In 1973, at the age of 12, she joined Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, an organisation which was started in 1959 by seven women with a modest loan of Rs 80. From storekeeper, she worked hard and gradually climbed the ladder to become the president of the organisation, which is today a symbol of women’s empowerment, employing over 30,000 women.

Lijjat Papad, despite providing employment and honour to women, could not compete with the glamour quotient of banking, finance, sports or the celluloid world. We and our inherent notions have created this barrier for women, who now want to notionally break it by storming into the Shani temple. The Shani temple doors will surely open for women. If not today, tomorrow. But despite the doors of the temples of justice — the courts — being open to women for decades, why have so few women entered it as judges?

After striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission, a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice J S Khehar was examining the nature of reforms required to be infused into the process of selection of judges. Women lawyers made a vociferous plea — the collegium which selects judges must shed its inhibition to choose woman lawyers as judges. “Look at their numbers. There are just 62 women judges compared to 611 male judges (in high courts) in the entire country,” was their refrain. Justice Khehar replied, “What is the ratio of female advocates to male advocates? Ratio of female judges to male judges must be in the same ratio.”

Justice Khehar’s response made them present statistics and plead that the collegium must not resort to ratio-based selection of woman judges.

They said women were allowed to practice only in 1922. At present, of the 24 high courts, nine do not have a single woman judge. Three have just one. Since 1950, when the Supreme Court was established, only six of its 229 judges have been women.

In the judgment striking down NJAC, the SC had quoted an exchange between the then President and the Chief Justice of India regarding selection of judges.

 President: “I would like to record my views that while recommending the appointment of Supreme Court judges, it would be consonant with constitutional principles and the nation’s social objectives if persons belonging to weaker sections of society like SCs and STs, who comprise 25% of the population, and women are given due consideration. Eligible persons from these categories are available and their under-representation or non- representation would not be justifiable.”

CJI: “I would like to assert that merit alone has been the criterion for selection of judges and no discrimination has been done while making appointments. All eligible candidates, including those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, are considered by us while recommending names for appointment as Supreme Court judges.

Our Constitution envisages that merit alone is the criterion for all appointments to the Supreme Court and high courts. And we are scrupulously adhering to these provisions. An unfilled vacancy may not cause as much harm as a wrongly filled vacancy.”

 Under no circumstance can only 6 women judges out of the total 229 in 66 years be a fair outcome of any “merit-alone” selection process. If women can climb Everest, head huge banks and financial institutions, run successful business houses, surely they can be good judges. The need of the hour is a change of mindset, both for the collegium headed by the CJI and the tradition bound Shani temple management.

Sani Shingnapur village in Maharashtra is the latest battlefield for women’s equality. Several attempts by women to enter the Shani temple to break the custom that bars their entry have met with resistance. Ironically, the ancient temple is dedicated to Saturn, a planet that astrologically governs the character and well-being of people without discriminating between man and woman.

It is difficult to say whether women’s entry into a temple will usher in equality in a country that has for centuries discriminated among human beings on the basis of gender, caste, colour, creed, lineage and money. For example, will it force khaps to respect a woman’s right to choose a life partner? TNN

 

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