The VIDHI report titled A Survey of Advocates Practicing Before the High Courtsrevealed some of the striking facts prevalent in some of High court (HC). It is to be pointed out as a word of caution that report doesn’t represent a nationwide trend as the survey was restricted to only 8 HCs- Delhi, Allahabad, Bombay, Gujarat, Calcutta, Patna, Madras & Kerala. The survey is based on 350 odd samples from each of these HCs.
The report covers lawyers practicing across these High Courts on diverse issues from income, collegiums, uniform to role of caste/religion. However, the most striking feature of the report for me was the representation of females in these HCs. For reference the number of females across these courts is extracted and mentioned below:
|HIGH COURT||FEMALE LAWYERS IN PERCENTAGE|
As one would expect, we see the highest percentage of female lawyers in the national capital and financial capital of the country.. However Kerala is the one which scores highest among these high courts. We need to remember that the base at Delhi HC and Bombay HC is very large when compared to Kerala but the promising figures shown by Kerala HC cannot be undermined in anyway. An average of female representation among the 8 High Courts comes out to be mere 16.55%.
This data again stirs decades old debate on underrepresentation of females in legal field. The report is just another validation to that fact. There have been several reports, seminars, conferences and even judicial discussion to cure this menace but to no avail. The figures have remained abysmal and it is not just restricted to lawyers at the HC. The author through this article would like to remind everyone about this “invisible truth” that is often highlighted only when some report is released.
The number of female judges in HCs has also been overwhelmingly obscure. According to data analysed as on 1st May 2020 out of 704 Judges of various High Court across India only 79 of them are female i.e. mere 11.22% (approx 12% for convenience). The abovementioned 8 HCs have 46 of them (approx 60%) wherein Patna HC has none.
The representation of female has historically and presently been low even at the highest level of Indian Judiciary. In the 70 yrs history of Supreme Court (SC), out of 215 Hon’ble justices so far there has been only 8 female judges (3 at present). A mere 3.72% representation of females at the apex court of the country where 48.04% of its population is female is a fact that is hard to comprehend and accept by any standards.
In yet another report of the VIDHI titled Tilting the scale of Gender imbalance in the Lower Judiciary They have highlighted the trends of Gender representation in Lower/subordinate Judiciary. Relevant excerpts from the report are borrowed and cited here:
|STATE||NUMBER OF FEMALE JUDGES||PERCENTAGE|
Only three of the smallest state Goa, Sikkim and Meghalaya show a percentage of women judges at more than 60%. Whereas the remaining and in particular the abovementioned states (covering majority of population and Judicial strength) have less than 40% women judges at subordinate Judiciary.
At law school level the female representation has not been so poor but has shown sign of concerns. As per the report, in CLAT 2019, out of total 2,391 candidates selected 1058 (44.24%) were female candidates (as per 1st allotment list). According to IDIA Diversity Report 2018-19 there also appears to be a skewing of Gender ratio in leading NLUs. The report shows female representation of these NLUs (NLSIU, NALSAR, NLIU, WBNUJS, NLUD) at just 42.33%. The report highlights that there may be an overall increase in female representation by couple of percentage but their representation at top NLUs are on a downward trend. The causative factor of this trend is not clear and deserves a deeper study.
The number of legal academics and the legal professors/teachers in the law universities also serves as an indicator of how structurally close the legal field is. Hence it would be obvious to just see as to how the law schools pan out when it comes to women faculties. The law education starts at these law schools and it will be monotonous and futile if it is dominated by the ideas of a particular gender.
For the limited resources of the author the law faculty of only top 10 NLUs, as provided on the CLAT official website, is analysed. The analysis is also restricted to only core faculties hence visiting faculty or research fellows are excluded from this analysis.
|University||Female faculty||Total faculty strength||Percentage of female faculty|
*includes only core faculty **NUJS has all female guest faculty (four) *** The percentage figure is subjected to error and may vary by +/-3%
Apart from NLUJ and RGNUl no NLU crosses the 50% mark. Some NLUs try to compensate this lack of gender representation by inviting guest faculty. One of the probable cause could be the lack of female application for the faculty post as has appended at one instance at Jindal Global Law School (shared by the VC). The lack of representation and our lack of understanding behind such underrepresentation is exactly the reason why a greater emphasis is needed at law education level as well.
The above observations don’t provide an exhaustive or detailed analysis of this problem i.e. lack of women participation that haunts the legal field and Judiciary in a wider spectrum. It only tends to highlight that the problem is not restricted to any level of the institution but rather is deeply embedded in the institution itself. As Justice AK Sikri has stressed that there is a need for the changes in the legal profession to foster a change in a society at large. We know that there is wide sense of sexism around women lawyers and it has been pointed out on several occasions. Hence unless we don’t cure the menace in our own home what promises can we make to the society then?
From the above discussion we know that when women are provided equal opportunity (in a form of competitive examination) their representation is promising and heartening (in NLUs and lower Judiciary) and in some cases higher than their male counterparts (in law firms). However the Chakravyuh (“female exclusion”) that is created for them traps majority of them in it for their lifetime and only few are able to break it and move up the ladder. Most of them learn it from Dronacharya (2nd/3rd generation lawyers) and some exceptional characters become Arjun. But what we need is Abhimanyu who knows and accepts the gruelling nature of the profession and tries to shatter the Chakravyuh by their will and passion. This time, provide Abhimanyu the level playing field that “she” deserves and in future maybe we will see Chakravyuh lose its relevance and die its natural death.
I would like to end by quoting observation of Justice Prabha Sridevan:
“In a healthy democracy, the judiciary must be a mirror of the whole society. This is not an argument against merit, but an argument for inclusion…There are many deterrents for a woman practitioner of law who is an aspirant to the Bench, all created by the realities of history. They should be removed by those who make the selection by considering gender and its attendant issues. The glass ceiling is there not because they (women) lack merit, but because they are women…”
Cross published here
Prefered Citation: Pandey, Shashank., “Women in LAW: Sorry state of Affairs”, The Law Culture (2020)