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Tapping at the glass ceiling: One woman among three judges in Chandigarh courts

Both Punjab and Haryana fare better with 39% and 34% women judges respectively. Jammu and Kashmir is the worst in the region with 18.6% women judges while the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh has 27.5%.

punjab Updated: Mar 08, 2018 12:45 IST
Aneesha Bedi
The numbers speak for themselves.  With only nine women judicial officers as compared to 21 men, the proportion is an abysmal 30% in Chandigarh.
The numbers speak for themselves. With only nine women judicial officers as compared to 21 men, the proportion is an abysmal 30% in Chandigarh.(Illustration by Biswajit Debnath/HT)

Chandigarh While women are striving hard to break the glass ceiling, gender inequality remains a sad reality in most fields.

Indian judiciary is no exception. As the world celebrates Women’s Day on March 8, a study released last month throws light on this aspect.

Delhi-based think tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has conducted a detailed study on the proportion of women judges in the lower judiciary in various states. It extracted district-wise names and designations of 15,806 judges in the lower judiciary over March-July, 2017.

The numbers speak for themselves. With only nine women judicial officers as compared to 21 men, the proportion is an abysmal 30% in Chandigarh.

Both Punjab and Haryana fare better with 39% and 34% women judges respectively. Jammu and Kashmir is the worst in the region with 18.6% women judges while the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh has 27.5%.

However, these numbers are still better when compared with the higher judiciary. While the Supreme Court has had only six women judges to date, India’s 24 high courts have slightly over 10% representation.

Reeta Kohli, a senior advocate of the Punjab and Haryana high court, says: “I have been practising law for the past 25 years. Although we have come a long way, it can’t be denied that gender bias exists not only in the lower judiciary but across the board.”

Sharing an anecdote, Kohli says once when she was representing the state many years ago, the lawyer representing the other party questioned, ‘Sarkar ne yeh kisko bhej diya?’

Reasons aplenty

The study says fewer women entering the legal profession might also explain the low number of judges. According to it, only 10% advocates in the country are women. One of the reasons, it says, is that women are wary of this profession.

“Sexual harassment and lack of supportive infrastructure, from toilets to maternity leave, also contribute to a high attrition rate among women lawyers,” says the study.

Justice Sneh Prashar, who retired from the Punjab and Haryana high court, says lack of awareness is to be blamed for women’s poor representation in judiciary.

Pam Rajput, founder director of Panjab University’s Centre of Women Studies, says it is easier for women from families of lawyers and judges to excel in law, but the kind of compromises other women lawyers in the lower courts have to make cannot even be spelt out. This leads to lower number of women as judicial officers, she says.

Diversity is important

The study also makes a case for more women in the judiciary.

It provides the decision-making power to a section of society that has been disenfranchised for long. A diverse bench is essential for a fair and impartial judiciary.

It allows women seeking justice face less stigma, especially while reporting violence and abuse.

Also, diversity of viewpoints makes courts more representative and democratically legitimate.

Moreover, inclusion of women judges allows for other women aspiring for a career in law to access mentorship.

“Women need to come out and be part of the institution. It will enhance credibility and integrity of this institution. Women have better ability to deliver justice,” says justice Sneh Prashar.

TheySay

Women need to come out and be part of the institution. It will enhance its credibility and integrity.

Justice Sneh Prashar (retd), Punjab and Haryana high court

We have come a long way, but it is a fact that the gender bias still exists across the board.

Reeta Kohli, senior advocate, Punjab and Haryana high court

GRAPHIC

Women judges across lower courts

State/UT Male judges Women judges

Punjab: 306 (61%) 197 (39%)

Haryana: 312 (66%) 165 (34%)

Chandigarh: 21 (70%) 9 (30%)

Himachal Pradesh: 86 (72%) 33 (28%)

Jammu and Kashmir: 166 (81%) 38 (19%)

Source: Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy