In this blog post, Jahnavi Murthy, from ILS Law College and pursuing a Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata, provides information on ten remarkable lady lawyers in India.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt
For the past few decades, women have been making their mark in various fields across the world, including our country India. The justice system has started opening doors for women to advocate as well as adjudicate matters. There are some women who have been instrumental in bringing equality of both genders in the face of the law. Enlisted below are ten such women who not only have worked but also made a mark in various fields.
She has been one of the most sought-after lawyers in the recent years. She is widely known to represent women in domestic violence cases, sexual harassment at workplace, custodial torture and sectional minorities. She has been a leading voice in bringing sexual harassment at workplace into the media. As published by Hard News Media, she had represented the Hashimpura victims in 2007 and had challenged the Right to Information Act 2005, questioning the accountability of those perpetrated in the mass custodial murder of the Muslim male victims. She also represented the Complainant in the JNU rape case and was heavily portrayed in the media after writing a letter to the police, stating that they should stop leaking false and frivolous information to the media as it was causing great grief and distress to the Complainant as well her family. She has represented various women in sexual harassment at workplace cases. She was recently in the media as the business tycoon, R.K Pachauri filed a case against her for recovery of 1000 crores in damages alleging that she was trying to prejudice the ongoing sexual harassment case against him as stated by Huffington Post in April 2016. She was also nominated by Time’s Magazine in 2013 as the 100 most influential people in the world. She has made a significant mark in the legal field by giving valuable advice on the drafting of the 2013 amendments relating to sexual assault, the Prevention from Torture Bill and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 and the law relating to protection against communal violence. She has appeared in landmark cases such as the Ishrat Jehan fake encounter case and the Anti-Sikh riots in 1984.
In 1986, she became the first woman senior advocate in Bombay High Court. She completed her post-graduate degree from Bombay University in 1962. During the tenure of her legal career, she has believed in helping the downtrodden and weaker sections of our society and has fought for rights for women on all fronts. Along with her husband Anand Grover, they started Lawyers Collective, an advocacy firm focusing on human rights and proving legal representation for the underprivileged sections of our society. Some of the landmark judgements passed in her favour have been the Mary Roy case, in which Syrian Christian women were granted an equal right to male inheritance. She fought against discrimination of Christian women on the granting of divorce which led to the amendment of the Indian Divorce Act, which now allows women to file for divorce under grounds of cruelty and desertion. In the Gita Hariharan case, she fought for the rights of a Hindu woman to be given the status of a natural guardian of her minor children which elevated the role of women in our society. She was instrumental in drafting the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and is also the first Indian woman to become a member of the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In matters relating to sexual harassment at workplace, she started the Lawyers Collective Women Right’s Initiative to highlight such issues and eliminate the same. She had been involved in various human rights initiatives especially during the 1980’s-1990 when Punjab was hit by terrorist attacks. She also represented the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy which is India’s worst industrial disasters. She was awarded the Padma Shree award in 2005 for her outstanding work in the field of public affairs. She was appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India in 2009 and was the first woman in India to have been exalted to such a rank. She was also awarded the Rotary Manav Seva Award for services rendered to the nation.
She has been one of India’s leading woman corporate lawyer’s and has been an image of academic excellence. She started her practice under Obey Chinoy, a senior counsel in Bombay High Court and realised how male-dominated the legal profession was in India. Then, she decided to start her law firm and founded AZB and Partners, which has become one of India’s leading Corporate Law firms. Being the daughter of a legal prodigal Soli Sorabjee, she was guided in the field of law from a very young age and completed her degrees from Cambridge and Harvard University, respectively. She has been known for her sheer hard work and commitment in the field of Corporate Law and has shown this by building a law firm which consists of more than 250 lawyers at present. She has authored a book titled “10 Judgement’s that Changed India” which was a bestseller and has been a jump start read for many budding lawyers. She has showcased feminine zeal by founding a law firm all by herself and has been a famous figure to all women who want to profess law. She has given a couple of interviews in which she has impressed upon how hard work and determination have led to her success.
She is a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and has been delegated the post of Additional Solicitor General of India. She is the head of the All Incharge India Legal Cell and serves as a member of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and represents the party at various national and international centres. She has several landmark judgements passed in her favour relating to the Constitutional right of freedom fought on behalf of the South Indian Actress Khushboo. She fought for GM food invasions and represented BJP leader Arjun Munda in his election to become the Chief Minister of Jharkhand. She fought the Delimitation case in the Supreme Court which led to the passing of Delimitation Commission orders across the Country in accordance with the 2001 census. She has received a number of awards namely the Woman Achiever’s Award from the renowned International Association of Lions Club. She is an erudite orator and speaks at various conferences on issues ranging from sexual violence against women to constitutional norms and remedies. She has been featured on many tabulated indexes over the number of years on being one of India’s top woman lawyers.
She has been known to have a feisty attitude and a brilliant command over the legal field. One of the youngest Supreme Court lawyer’s, Menaka has been a shining star amongst all other budding Constitutional lawyers. She is an academic marvel as having received a degree at Harvard, Oxford and NLSIU, Bangalore. She has been recently invited to be part of the visiting faculty at Yale Law School. She has challenged the grounds of decriminalising Section 377 in India, along with defending the Right to Education Act. She is also a consultant to the United Nations and has fought various cases ranging from Corporate Law to Criminal Law, but her core focus point is Constitutional Law. She believes in equality for all and always strives to fight for justice and constitutional rights. She is also a Rhodes Scholar and has worked under the Attorney General of India. She believes in constantly questioning one’s abilities and striving for excellence and what one must trust.
Immigration law is a law that involves the physical movement of immigrants into any country. Sheela Murthy, an Indian lawyer, based in the US had started one of the world’s leading immigration law firms. She did her primary education from University Law College in Bangalore and completed her Master’s in the US. She has travelled extensively throughout India as her father was in the Army and had the opportunity to visit and digest the different cultures prevalent in India. While in Law school, she worked in an NGO called Vimochana that represented women who were physically and emotionally abused for dowry. She worked on various cases with regards to Dowry death. After moving to the US, she realised the problems faced by underprivileged and discriminated immigrants in the US, including Indians. She then decided to stay back and start her own immigration law firm that aids immigrants who newly migrate to the US. She has not been practising in India for a number of years since her practice is in the US. She has established a practice abroad that eases and guides new immigrants in the US who are faced with many difficulties. She is a leader and carries the name of India even as she practices in the US. She believes that the work she does indirectly helps her own people gain a better life abroad. Her law firm is one of the most sought-after law firms in the world, she owes all credit to her life and education in India.
A human rights litigator, Karuna Nandy, has fought a different number of challenging cases that bears fruit to her successful career. She lent a hand at fighting the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case in 1984 as well as assisted in the drafting of the anti-rape laws in India that was implemented after the 2012 gang rape case in Delhi. She pursued Law at Cambridge and then went on to do a fellowship at Columbia University. She contemplated a career in the UK as a barrister but changed her mind as she wanted to make a difference in India which she felt was far more rewarding. She believes in strengthening the image of women in India and removing the taboo of a male dominated society. She is actively fighting for criminalising marital rape in India. One of her notable success stories was to strike down section 66A of the Information Technology Act that curtailed the freedom of speech on the internet. It has led to the arrest of many people for posting objectionable and questionable content on the web that was supposedly against public policy. However, the Supreme Court quashed the section after that. She has faced criticisms on many fronts for her feminist beliefs but has dealt with such situations with grace and elegance.
A firm believer in feminism and the Director of ‘Majlis’, a legal aid centre for women, Flavia Agnes, has been one of the faces of the feminist movement in India. She went through an abusive marriage for over 14 years and finally divorced him and gained custody of her children. She earned a degree in Law and started practising as a full-fledged Advocate. She paid for her studies by tutoring students, and while engaging with other mothers, she realised that many women and children faced abuse at home. She joined the Forum against Oppression of Women (FOAW), an organisation that deals with domestic violence, rapes and dowry deaths. She interacted with many women to understand family and marital abuse. She wrote numerous articles on minorities groups, gender and equality. She co-founded Majlis along with Madhushree Dutta and caters to women across India who face domestic violence, abuse and cruelty and provides them with legal aid. She has criticised the Shayara Bano case on Triple Talaq and has stated her views in various media circles much to the surprise of her fellow feminists.
‘She is a practising Advocate at the Supreme Court and also a socio-political activist’. She has been instrumental in working on landmark cases such as the Shanti Mukund case, banning of lotteries in Delhi and acted as the special prosecutor in the Jyothi Dhawan case. She has also been an active member of the drafting committee of the Women’s Reservation’s Bill and the Problem of Sexual Harassment at Workplace. She is also a part of NGOs that specialise in women empowerment. She was delegated as a spokesperson for the Privileges Committee in the Lok Sabha in April 2016. She was asked by Nitin Gadkari, an ex BJP President to become the Vice-President of the Mahila Morcha. She is known to manage her political career as well as her legal career with grace and dignity. She’s frequently seen on television interviews and talks where she impresses upon the importance of nationalism in our country.
She has been an active social activist and has fought for women rights since she became an Advocate in the Karnataka High Court. Recently, she has replied to a comment passed by an Advocate in the High Court on contemplating the issue of introducing a panel of people such as counsellors or social workers to overlook family matters before they are taken up in the Family Court. She is known for expressing her experience with women who are treated with cruelty and face brash behaviour from disgruntled husbands and has strived to represent such women before the Court. She has elevated the rank of women in the state of Karnataka and continues to make efforts in equalising the status of men and women before the eyes of law and society.