By Chandni Shah
Originally published on 18 August 2018.
The Supreme Court of India has made some monumental judgements this year in regards to women’s rights. From the declaring of the Right to Privacy, which we love, to striking down the practice of triple talaq and making it a criminal offence, the tangent set by the highest court in India is an all-time high. So, we couldn’t help but be happy when the court announced the appointment of Justice Indira Banerjee, the former Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, as a judge in the Supreme Court. This makes her the 8th female judge in the history of the Supreme Court and marks the first time in history when there are 3 sitting female judges in the Supreme Court. I mean, it’s not every day we get to say there are 3 female judges in the Supreme Court.
While this is great news, it does not change the fact that in almost seven decades, there have been only 8 female judges in the Supreme Court. It was only in October 1989, four decades after the Supreme Court was established, that the first female judge, Justice Fathima Beevi, of the Kerala High Court, was appointed a judge in this prestigious institution. After her, there have been 7 other judges in the court, with the appointment of Justice Indira Banerjee being the most recent appointment.
The statistics regarding Gender equality in the judicial system are quite staggering. According to recent data by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, only 9% of the judges in the supreme court are female. If you think that the numbers have to better in the High Courts or lower courts, you’re wrong. Female judges comprise only 11% of the High Courts and 27% of the lower courts. Out of the 16,660 judges in the lower courts, only 4487 are women.
All of the female Supreme Court judges have done amazing work and have presided over landmark cases, like Justice Sujata V Manohar, who laid down the “Vishaka” guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment in workplaces. This doesn’t take away from the fact that it was an all-male panel that had made the decisions on striking down the triple talaq rule. While we appreciate the judgement, we just wish there had been a female judge to preside over a case where the majority of the impact would be felt on women.
Of the 25 sitting judges in the Supreme Court, only 3 of them are women, and this is being seen as a landmark because it’s the highest number of women in the Supreme Court. Of over 200 judges the Supreme Court has seen, only 8 have been women.
It was Justice Ruth Ginsberg, a judge in the US Supreme Court, who once commented in an interview, saying, “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough women on Supreme Court and I say, ‘when there are nine’, people are shocked. But there have been nine men and nobody has ever raised a question about that”. We can’t help but look forward to a day when there are 25 female Supreme Court judges and no one blinks an eye.