It’s “Deeply Worrying” Only One SC Judge Is a Woman, Says Justice Chandrachud
Justice Indu Malhotra’s retirement as a Supreme Court (SC) judge has left only one woman judge in the court, a situation that Justice D.Y. Chandrachud finds “deeply worrying,” and in need of prompt and “serious introspection,” he said in a speech Saturday.
Appointed in April 2018, Justice Malhotra became the seventh woman judge of the SC in its 70 year history. She is also the first woman lawyer to be directly elevated to the apex court.
Following her retirement, Justice Indira Banerjee, who was appointed in August 2018, is the only woman judge in the SC, which, according to Justice Chandrachud, fails to reflect the diversity of the country in the judiciary.
“As an institution whose decision shapes and impacts everyday lives of Indians, we must do better. We must ensure the diversity of our Country finds reflection in the make-up of our court,” he noted while addressing a virtual farewell ceremony organized for Justice Malhotra by the Supreme Court Young Lawyers Forum. He added that “having a more diverse judiciary is an end; a goal in itself, and worth pursuing in its own sake.”
A more diverse judiciary also ensures that a diversity of perspectives is taken into account and, in the process, “instills high degree of public confidence,” he said in the speech.
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When women judges bring their lived socio-cultural experiences to their judicial actions, it brings “a more comprehensive and empathetic perspective — one that encompasses not only the legal basis for judicial action but also awareness of consequences on the people affected,” Judge Vanessa Ruiz from the U.S., the current president of the International Association of Women Judges, wrote in 2019.
“By elucidating how laws and rulings can be based on gender stereotypes, or how they might have a different impact on women and men, a gender perspective enhances the fairness of adjudication, which ultimately benefits both men and women,” she noted further. Basically, representation matters.
Reports suggest less than 3.3% of judges who have been appointed to the SC have been women — despite women making up 48% of the country’s population. In addition, no woman has been appointed as the Chief Justice of India yet. Experts note that possible reasons range from lack of reservation for women in higher courts to the collegium system that appoints judges being opaque, and therefore, more prone to bias.
While urging the legal fraternity to ensure “it doesn’t remain as hard for women, as it was for Justice Malhotra, to reach the upper echelons of our profession,” Justice Chandrachud noted that Justice Malhotra “has served as a powerful symbol for many women in the profession” and “her story has undoubtedly made their dreams more reachable.”