The Madras High Court, which swore in four new judges on Wednesday, has highest number of women judges in the country. Justice Sundaram Srimathy became the thirteenth woman among sitting High Court Judges.
Advocate General R Shanmugasundaram, the Chairman of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry (BCTN), shared the proud moment. “It is proud to mention that our Hon’ble High Court is having more number of women judges compared to other High Courts and we expect the same to continue.”
Justice Srimathy said she feels a sense of pride and privilege to be associated with this great institution. “I hail from an ordinary family. I am a first-generation lawyer. As a Judge, I pray to almighty to give me the grace to hear patiently, consider diligently, to understand rightly and to decide justly, and to grant me due sense of humility.”
Gender gap in Indian Judiciary
In September, India’s Supreme Court swore in three female judges, with Justice BV Nagarathna being touted to become the country’s first female chief justice. Justice Nagarathna’s elevation, in particular, is being seen as the proverbial breaking of the glass ceiling, since she is likely to be the first woman Chief Justice of India in 2027, albeit for a short tenure of 40 days. She had also made history in 2008 when she became the first woman lawyer from the Bar to join the Karnataka High Court.
The appointments are no doubt welcome as they narrow the gender gap in India’s top court. But critics, as per BBC, say celebrations are premature until the skewed gender balance across India’s judiciary is fixed. According to data from the Department of Justice portal, last updated on October 1 2021, out of 627 judges in all HCs, only 66 are women. The Madras High Court has the maximum number of women judges, 13, out of the working strength of 55. Moreover, statistics from the last 15 years show that women’s representation in the judiciary has been abysmally low.
NV Ramana, Chief Justice of India, addressing at event organized by the Supreme Court Women’s Bar Association, asserted it was time 50% of seats in the judiciary were reserved for women. He highlighted that there are only 30% women judges in the lower courts and 11.5% in high courts. “Enough of suppression of thousands of years. It is high time we have 50% representation of women in judiciary. It is your right. It is not a matter of charity.”
Chief Justice Ramana called for an urgent correction in the state of affairs, and said he strongly advocates reservation of a “significant percentage of seats” in law schools and universities for women.