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Gender Disparity in the Indian Judiciary

This article is written by Manmeet Singh

Senior woman judge Indira Banerjee has retired from the supreme court. She was the fifth senior judge of the Supreme Court and has demitted after serving the same for over 4 years. Now the Supreme Court has three female judges including Justices Hima Kohli, BV Nagarathna, and Bela M Trivedi. Retirement has brought down the total strength of the Supreme Court Judges to 29 against the total strength of 34 including the Chief Justice of India.

Justice Indira Banerjee was the 8th woman to be a judge in the Supreme Court. Banerjee J graduated from Presidency College and received her LL.B from the College of Law, Calcutta University. In February 2002, she was appointed as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court. She was transferred to the Delhi High Court in August 2016 before being appointed as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in April 2017. Banerjee J was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court on August 7th 2018.

With her retirement, the issue of gender disparity in the Indian judiciary is reignited.

On the final day of her office as a justice, Banerjee hoped that more women would be appointed as judges of the top judiciary in the coming days.

The gender disparity in the Indian judiciary is alarmingly very high. Ever since the Supreme Court has come into existence in 1956 it has seen only 11th female judges so far. The first female who was appointed the Supreme Court judge was Fatima Beewi in 1989. Other female judges appointed to the apex court were Justices Sujata V Manohar, Ruma Pal, Gyan Sudha Misra, Ranjana P Desai, R Banumathi, and Indu Malhotra.

The United Nations observes 10th March as the International Day of women judges. India was among the nation that sponsored the resolution in this regard which was moved by Qatar. The day aims to recognise efforts and contributions being made by women judges. Despite India being the sponsor, it has miserably failed to address the issue. In many states of India, there is a 30% horizontal reservation for women in the lower Judiciary like States such as Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Rajasthan have benefited from such reservation as they now have 40-50% women judicial officers but that’s not the case with the higher judiciary.

In high courts, the percentage of women judges is a mere 11.5% while in the Supreme Court there are now only three sitting women judges out of a total of 33 judges. Even the situation of women lawyers in the country is not any better. Out of 1.7 million registered advocates only 15% of women.

Just 83 of the 680 judges in the high courts are women. Only 30 per cent of subordinate judges are female. Recently, the Supreme Court Collegium recommended 192 candidates for the High Courts, out of these, 37, that is 19%, were women. But Unfortunately, so far only 17 of the 37 women recommended were appointed.

Over the last couple of years, the Supreme Court has given numerous verdicts on gender discrimination but unfortunately, none of them was delivered by a female judge.

There are numerous reasons for the under-representation of females in the higher judiciary. Collegium system, patriarchial mindset, lack of judicial infrastructure, low number of females in the field of law and women often have to face hostile atmospheres within courtrooms. Harassment, lack of respect from members of the bar and bench, and the silencing of their opinions are some of the other traumatic experiences often recounted by many women lawyers.

It is high time that we all need to understand that the issue of gender disparity in the higher judiciary needs to be addressed with immediate effect. Former Chief Justice of India N.V Ramanna also raised the issue of the lack of female judges in the higher judiciary on the eve of 10th March I.e. International Day of Women Judges.

Higher representation of females in the Judiciary can lead to numerous benefits. Increased judicial diversity enriches and strengthens the ability of judicial reasoning to encompass and respond to varied social contexts and experiences. This can improve justice sector responses to the needs of women and marginalized groups., a higher number of female judges also courage women to seek justice. It will further provide impetus to women’s empowerment and would be a Remarkable step towards the social economic political upliftment of women in India.

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