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New Delhi: Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Sunday, September 26, called for the “urgent correction” of the gender imbalance in the Indian judiciary, stating that women are entitled to 50% reservation in the judiciary and should demand it, the Indian Express reported.
The CJI’s remarks came at a felicitation ceremony which was organised by the Lady Advocates of the Supreme Court of India, where he remarked that, after thousands of years of suppression, equal representation is a right of women. “It is not a matter of charity,” he said.
During his speech, CJI Ramana also detailed the measly representation of women in the judiciary in numbers, stating that women make up only 30% of the lower judiciary, 11.5% of the high courts and 12% of the Supreme Court. Moreover, only 15% of the country’s 1.7 million advocates are women.
The picture is worse when it comes to bar councils: only 2% of women are elected representatives in state bar councils and the Bar Council of India has no female members whatsoever.
The CJI went on to detail the real-world problems women in the judiciary face. The gender roles which are enforced on women when they choose to become lawyers, the dual-responsibility they have to contend with as family responsibilities inevitably fall on them and a general preference of clients for male advocates all pose significant challenges to women in the judicial system.
The environment in the courtrooms are also not favourable for women, as the CJI pointed out. Crowded courtrooms and a lack of infrastructure affect women disproportionately. CJI Ramana pointed out that, out of the 6,000 trial courts in the country, only 22% of them have washrooms for women. “We need to create a more welcoming environment,” he noted, pointing to the proposed National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC) project which the CJI himself has envisaged.
CJI Ramana, while speaking about the NJIC on September 11, said that the project will follow the design principles of “socially responsible and inclusive architecture” and that it would work towards creating “national assets” in the country.
The CJI also expressed support for the reservation of seats for women in law schools across the country, saying, “We hope more women will join the profession and achieve the goal of 50% shortly.”
Justice B.V. Nagarathna, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in August and will serve as India’s first woman Chief Justice in 2027, also spoke at the event. She noted that the visibility of women as judicial officers can “pave the way for greater representation of women in other decision-making positions such as legislative and executive branches of the government,” the Hindustan Times reported.
Justice Nagarathna will only enjoy a term of one month as the CJI.
The CJI also expressed hope for the physical resumption of courts after the Dussehra vacation, which is scheduled from October 11-16.
The Supreme Court has been hearing cases virtually ever since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed last year, only recently moving to a “hybrid” mode of functioning.