A glimpse at the Indian legal system is good enough to tell you that most of those lawyers in the black robe are men and not women. Since the percentage of female advocates in India is rather low, it becomes even more important to speak about the ones who have been able to break the glass ceiling. Here are some of the path-breaking female lawyers in India who have been notably contributing to the judicial system of the country. These women have been trailblazers and have inspired everyone tremendously with their talent and hard work.
Why is having more female lawyers a big step?
At a conference in Goa, Justice Sujata Manohar shared an anecdote about the time when she began to practice law. She unfoundedly was questioned by her male colleagues if she was in the profession to search for a husband in the courts. This was the scenario when barely a few women lawyers made their way into the legal system.
Female lawyers in India are very poorly represented. There are only 73 women judges in the high courts and 3 women judges in the Supreme Court, it is quite evident that India has a dearth of female lawyers.
A woman’s admission to the Indian legal system has been chained by many issues related to gender discrimination, not being given a safe space to practice, always being considered incompetent, biases around their marital status, not being taken seriously and many others.
Gender differentiation continues to exist in ways where female lawyers still have to fight for their identity despite their honorary positions. Justice Rekha Palli had to correct a male lawyer for addressing her as ‘Sir’. She was quoted as saying, “I am not Sir. I hope you can make that out”.
Menaka Guruswamy and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
One of the leading civil rights and constitutional lawyers in India, Menaka Guruswamy, played an instrumental role in the decriminalisation of Section 377. She was also a B R Ambedkar Research scholar and a lecturer at Columbia Law School. She has been at the forefront of pursuing many cases that aim at rewriting laws from the colonial era. She also played a key role in defending a Right to Education provision that obligated the admission of disadvantaged children to private schools. She was also appointed as amicus curiae about extrajudicial killings in Manipur by the military and in fighting for the right of women to enter the famous Sabrimala temple. A senior advocate with the Supreme Court of India, Menaka has been fearless in expressing her stance on ‘Love Jihad’. One of the top female lawyers in India, Menaka has written many essays and conducted talks on constitutional law.
Flavia Agnes and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
A practising lawyer at the Mumbai High Court, Flavia Agnes is a well-established women’s rights lawyer. Her field of expertise lies in divorce, marital and property law. Flavia’s personal experience with domestic violence motivated her to centre her focus on laws related to various women’s issues. She co-founded MAJLIS, through which she has been able to facilitate legal services and counselling services to 50,000 women. She currently advises the Ministry of Women and Child Development in Maharashtra. She is also an advisor to the Government. An established female lawyer in India, Flavia has also written extensively on minority rights, gender and law, domestic violence, feminist jurisprudence, etc.
Karuna Nundy and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
One of the top female lawyers in India, Karuna Nundy gained immense recognition for her contribution to the ‘anti-rape’ bill which succeeded the Nirbhaya rape case of Delhi in 2012, which earned her immense regard, declaring her on the list of new wave feminists. She is an advocate at the Supreme Court as well as an international human rights lawyer. Karuna fought for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims and helped in cutting the toxic waste dumps and carcinogenic chemicals. She also represented the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in the case that removed Section 66A of Information Technology, 2000. She practices in India and New York both. She also contributed to drafting the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2013. Karuna Nundy is a legal policy advisor to United Nations, the Government, to civil society movements. She is very frequently interviewed for her opinions and comments on legal issues with New York Times, BBC, FAZ, NDTV and other media channels.
Indira Jaising and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
A senior advocate at the Supreme Court, Indira Jaising is a highly reputed human rights lawyer. In the year 2018, her name was mentioned in Fortune magazine among the list of 20 greatest leaders of the world. Among one of the most famous female advocates in India, Indira Jaising has fought for the rights of homeless dwellers in Mumbai. There is a host of landmark cases that she has been associated with. One of the notable cases was her representation for the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy where she stood against Union Carbide Corporation to claim their compensation. She was also appointed by the United Nations in the investigation case of Rohingya Muslims who were brutally raped and killed in Rakhine, Myanmar. In the year 2009, Indira Jaising became the first woman to be appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India.
Kamini Jaiswal and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
Kamini Jaiswal is an Indian female lawyer who has fought for the rights of the accused in the most high profile terror-related cases in the country. Some of these include the Akshardham blast case, the Red Fort attack, and the Parliament attack. She played an instrumental role in protecting many innocent people get absolved. She is also a member of the Committee on Judicial Accountability. In one of the interviews, she openly mentioned that terror laws are used against Muslims and minorities. Despite receiving threatening calls, Kamini continued performing her duty as a human rights advocate. She also appeared for PIL by the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation along with Prashant Bhushan in the 2G case. She was also one of the lawyers who represented S.A.R. Geelani in the Parliament attack (2001). His acquittal was secured despite a double death sentence given by the trial court.
Rebecca John and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
Rebecca became the first woman lawyer to be promoted to a senior advocate in the year 2013 by the Delhi High Court. She is very experienced in her field with meticulous practice in the appellate, trial court and Supreme court. Throughout her career, she is known for dealing in high-profile cases. She fought for the victims of the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in which Sikhs were targeted. One of the top female advocates in India, Rebecca represented Harshad Mehta in the Securities Scam 1992. She was also the lawyer for the accused in the Aarushi murder case which brought her fame. Most of the cases that she has been a part of have been actively reported in the media. She has represented Kobad Ghandy, an Indian writer and political activist accused under the Unlawful Activities Act. Her sensational victory was the defamation suit filed by M J Akbar against her client, Priya Ramani, a renowned journalist who led allegations against him during the #MeToo movement of 2018.
Zia Mody and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
One of the leading female lawyers in India, Zia Mody is a corporate attorney. She is also the Co-founder and Managing Partner of AZB & Partners—a PAN India Law firm that comprises over 400 lawyers. The firm provides clients with services across Capital Markets, Banking and Finance, Investment Funds, Financial Services and Fintech, etc. and ranks among the top 2 law firms in the country. Zia’s clientele includes India’s largest industrial houses such as Reliance, Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group, Vedanta Group, etc. Renowned equity houses such as Bain Capital, KKR and Warburg Pincus also seek her legal advice. Zia Mody has made her mark not just in India but on an international platform as well. She is a part of many recognized advisory and regulatory committees. Zia Mody has also made it to the Fortune list of ‘India’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business’ in the year 2018 and 2019.
Deepika Singh Rajawat and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
Deepika Singh Rajawat became a household name while representing the case of the Kathua rape victim, an 8-year old girl from the community of Muslim grazers. She was brutally gang-raped and murdered in Rasana village, Kathua district, Jammu and Kashmir. Despite receiving death threats, being isolated socially, and not gaining the support of her own community of lawyers who protested the submission of the charge sheet, Deepika continued to fight for the justice of the accused. Her win is indeed a historic one. She is also the chairperson of ‘Voice for Rights’, an NGO that deals with work pertaining to human rights.
Vrinda Grover and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
If you search for the ‘best female lawyer in India’, Vrinda Grover has to be one of the names on that list. She is not just a lawyer but also a human rights activist, a researcher and a women's rights activist who has played a significant role in a number of landmark cases in the country. Vrinda was the counsel for S.A.R. Geelani, one of the accused in the Parliament attack case of 2001. She stood on behalf of the Hashimpura survivors and families of the people who were killed in the attack. She represented the rape victims of the Muzzafarnagar Massacre in 2013. Vrinda Grover fought for the rights of Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher turned into a political leader who was blamed for criminal conspiracy and sexually assaulted while in police custody of Chattisgarh. Vrinda Grover is also a member of the UN Women India Civil Society Advisory Group. In the year 2013, her name was mentioned among the 100 most influential people in the world.
Meenakshi Arora and the contributions that make her a super lawyer
A senior counsel at the Supreme Court of India, Meenakshi Arora has played a significant role in safeguarding the rights of women in the country. Her influential role in the Vishaka case led to the formation of guidelines by the Supreme Court that encompassed the protection of women against sexual harassment at the workplace. It materialised into legislation in the year 2013. Her valuable inputs in the Sakshi case (2004) resulted in guidelines that have now been made into a law for the examination of child victims owing to child abuse. Meenakshi, an Indian female lawyer, has played a crucial role in many path-breaking judgements—human rights and constitutional both. This also includes the right to privacy and electoral reforms. In the year, she was designated as the fifth woman to be promoted to senior advocate. She is also a columnist with the Indian Express.
Role of women lawyers in changing the legal system
Female advocates in India have improved the authenticity of the courts, giving a strong signal that they are accessible to each one of those who seek justice. They have enhanced the quality of justice. They have earned the trust of the public by their commitment to proving the credibility of what they have fought for. Women lawyers have led by example. They have brought about empathy in courtrooms and have broken all gender stereotypes. Such lawyers have become beacons of hope for many to knock at the doors of the court with trust.
Celebrating the success of these super lawyers
With the presence of such courageous and intellectual women in the legal system of India, today we have certain laws in place that safeguard women. These powerful women have shown the world that there is absolutely no gender that stands in between executing professionalism. Withstanding an environment like the Indian legal system where women have faced discrimination and continue to do so till now, these lawyers have created a niche for themselves, upholding their identity and excelling at their work with an unflinching spirit.
The contributions of such brilliant female lawyers to the judiciary system of India hold immense significance. These powerful women used their sword of ‘intellect and strength’ to provide justice, empower other sections of the society and created victory by fighting all odds. They are an inspiration to all women to forge ahead on their choice of path, whether personally or professionally.
1. Who is the best female lawyer in India?
There are many lawyers included in the list. Each lawyer has her own set of expertise such as Zia Mody in the field of corporate law, Rebecca John in the field of criminal law and different others in their respective field of law qualifications.
2. Is law a good choice for women in India?
Times have changed and many women are taking up law as their profession. The field of law has excellent opportunities and an increasing number of women are choosing it as their career stream.