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Few women judges in higher courts

When it comes to appointing judges in the higher courts of law, India has a distinct bias against the fairer sex, reports Bhadra Sinha.
Hindustan Times | By Bhadra Sinha, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 16, 2007 01:43 AM IST

When it comes to appointing judges in the higher courts of law, India has a distinct bias against women.

There is no woman judge in the Supreme Court; six of the 21 high courts have only male judges. Among the 597 judges of the higher judiciary across the country, only 39 are women.

The Ministry of Law and Justice made these figures public in response to a Right to Information application by one Dev Ashish Bhattacharya. Currently, all the 22 judges of the Supreme Court are men. The high courts of Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Jharkhand, Sikkim and Uttarakhand also do not have any woman judge.

Is the poor representation of women in the higher judiciary a result of gender bias? Supreme Court advocate Kamini Jaiswal says, “Yes. There is lot of prejudice and bias in high courts and the Supreme Court when it comes to selecting judges from the bar.”

She says a woman lawyer has to do a job 10 times better than her male counterpart. “If a woman argues in a high pitch, she often gets to hear, ‘Do not get hysterical,’” says Jaiswal. “But if a man argues in the same tone, judges accept it as something normal.”

Usha Mehra, a former judge of the Delhi High Court, says, “Women’s merit has been ignored for a very long time in the judiciary. Preference is given to men at the time of appointing judges. Now there are more women in the profession and some of them are performing much better than their male colleagues. Therefore, they should be considered for judges’ post too.”

Advocate Manali Singhal says, “The time has arrived when the decision makers must open their minds towards women.”

So is reservation for women in the higher judiciary the answer? Opinion seems to be divided. Senior advocate Shyamlha Pappu favours a quota for women. “The fairer sex is more sympathetic, sensitive and conscientious,” she says. “And there is a need for women judges today.”

But Jaiswal and Mehra disagree. Mehra says women chosen on merit earn respect and dignity. Jaiswal says reservation should never be introduced in the judiciary because women are as meritorious as men. “Their selection should be based on their practice,” she says.

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