Women less than 10 percent of India’s higer judiciary (March 8 is International Women’s Day)

New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) Did you know the Supreme Court doesn’t have a single woman judge? The Indian judiciary continues to turn a Nelson’s eye to gender parity despite the government making a concerted bid to raise women’s representation in parliament and state legislatures to 33 percent.

As per official figures, the Supreme Court shares its dubious distinction with several high courts, including those of Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.

‘It’s a shame on the Supreme Court of India that there is no woman judge in the institution. It’s also a shame on the people who appoint Supreme Court judges,’ senior apex court lawyer Kamini Jaiswal told IANS.

Jaiswal lamented that in its entire history of six decades, only three women were able to make it to the apex court as judges – M. Fathima Beevi in October 1989, Sujata V. Manohar in November 1994 and Justice Ruma Pal in 2006.

Despite several women making a name for themselves as lawyers practising in the apex court and various high courts, the participation of women as judges in India’s higher judiciary is less than 10 percent.

The official figures reveal that out of the total number of 630 judges working in 21 high courts of the country, merely 52 are women – a figure that works out to around 8.25 percent of the total.

Compared to the total sanctioned strength of 895 judges in the high courts, the number of women judges working there further falls to an insignificant level of 5.8 percent.

Pinky Anand, another prominent woman lawyer, rued the lack of gender parity. ‘Does it not unwittingly convey the impression that there are not many good lawyers and judges in the high courts to be elevated as apex court judges?’

Not having a single woman judge in the Supreme Court deprives the institution of a woman’s insight into thousands of issues the court may be adjudicating on, she said.

The figures are dismal even for the high courts that do have women judges. For example, the Delhi High Court, which has a working strength of 42 judges, has only eight women judges. And this is the largest number of women judges working in any high court.

The Bombay and Madras high courts have 62 and 53 judges respectively, but only seven of them are women in each. The Rajasthan High Court has 30 judges – and only one is of the fairer sex.

The country’s largest high court – in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh – has a working strength of 78 judges, of whom only four are women. High courts in states like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Chhattisgarh don’t have a single woman judge.

The union government, despite making a concerted bid for the passage of the women’s reservation bill in parliament – ensuring 33 percent seats for women in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and various state legislatures – continues to ignore the issue of gender parity in the higher judiciary.

It continues to say that under the present procedure, they have no say in the appointment of judges in the higher judiciary. It also contends that the constitution does not provide for any reservation in the appointment of judges in the higher judiciary.

Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has told the Lok Sabha that the proposal to appoint a judge is initiated by the judiciary itself and the government has no role in it.

But then the present provisions of the constitution do not provide for any reservation for women in union or state legislatures either. If attempts can be made to change the constitution for that, why can’t the higher judiciary hope for a similar move, wonder women lawyers.

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at rana.ajit@ians.in)

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