Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana on Tuesday rued the "quite low" representation of women at all levels in the legal field and promised that he would take up the demand for their higher representation beyond 50 per cent on the bench with his collegium colleagues.
Referring to the pressure of being the CJI, Justice Ramana said, "Sister Hima Kohli enquired with concern if I am under stress. Yes, I am under stress. Being the Chief Justice is stressful. I cannot avoid it. I have to deal with it."
The CJI, while speaking at a felicitation ceremony of Justice Hima Kohli on her elevation to the Supreme Court, said that he was accused of "instigating revolution" by asking women to seek more representation for themselves using a modified Karl Marx quote.
"The modified Karl Marx quote, i.e. 'nothing to lose but your chains', that I used when I addressed you last time led to a complaint being lodged with the highest authority. I was accused of instigating revolution,” he told the gathering. "The demand for higher representation beyond 50 per cent on the Bench in view of backlog of under representation of women is taken note of. I promise to take up your demand with my Brothers in the collegiums,” he assured the women lawyers' gathering here.
On the issue of under-representation of women in the judiciary, he said women on an average constitute only around 30 per cent of the judges in lower judiciary. "Some states have a good number of women judges, whereas in other states the representation is abysmal,” he said.
In high courts, the percentage of women judges is mere 11.5 per cent, while in the Supreme Court there are four sitting women judges out of 33 in office, the Chief Justice of India said. "The situation of women lawyers in the country is not any better. Out of 1.7 million advocates registered, only 15 per cent are women,” he stated.
He said that in order to promote women in law and litigation, the focus should be to increase the number of girls choosing to study law after school. “This is why I had recommended last time for some form of uniform policy of reservation for girls for entry into law colleges across the country,” he said.
The CJI also quoted the late US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg that "women belong in all places where decisions are being made...It shouldn't be that women are the exception." He stated that there are various barriers that women face in the legal profession, including bias, lack of judicial infrastructure, etc. "The continued prevalence of certain attitudes about the role of women in society -- this issue is a problem a woman faces regardless of the type of employment," he said.
The CJI said that another issue is the bias that women face, whether from their colleagues or litigants. He said that this bias affects not just women advocates, but also those on the Bench. This creates a completely unwelcome atmosphere inside courtrooms for women. It is the duty of all lawyers and judges to ensure that a friendly environment is created in courtrooms, he opined.
Judicial infrastructure, or the lack of it, is another barrier to women in the profession, he said, adding that small courtrooms which are crowded and cramped, absence of restrooms, childcare facilities, etc. are all barriers. "Nearly 22 percent of courts in the country did not have washroom facilities," he said.
"All these issues cannot be solved in a day. Many will take years, and even generations. But it needs to be done. There can be no denying that the inclusion of women as judges and lawyers in the country will substantially improve the justice delivery system. Women can bring a different perspective to the law which will enrich the legal field," he added.
He requested women lawyers and judges at the top of this profession to raise their voices about the changes that can be made to improve the working conditions and representation of women in the legal profession. "I will support such initiatives with all my heart,” he remarked.
The Chief Justice of India also appealed to women to encourage their children to speak in their mother tongue. "As a person who had his education in Telugu medium till I joined law course, I have an appeal to make to you all mothers. Please encourage your children to speak in your mother tongue. This will help them think better and learn better,” he said.
Supreme Court judge Justice Indira Banerjee, Delhi High Court judges Justice Rekha Palli and Justice Pratibha Singh were present at the event.
-With PTI Inputs