In the 21st century, it is quite common for women to take the legal career and there exist many famous female lawyers in India. However, the present scenario would quite create terror in the background of 19th century India. Women were quite not welcomed at every other educational event, and they were certainly not being encouraged to take a male-dominated field as their career option. Raising their voice on a particular topic along with many male colleagues, women were not involved in this field at all even though they were related to many other revolutionary movements in British India. And the stereotype first broke with Cornelia Sorabji – The first Indian female advocate and the first Indian national to study abroad. Let us hear out her story here.
Early Days of Cornelia Sorabji
Born on 15th November 1866 in Nasik, Cornelia Sorabji belonged to a wealthy ‘Parsi’ background. Her father, Reverend Sorabji Karsedji, was a missionary man. Her mother, Francina Ford, was a noted figure too in their society because of her different social works related to girls. She also helped in establishing many girls’ school in Poona.
Cornelia Sorabji spent her childhood in Belgaum in the companion of her five siblings. She was home-schooled at first, and after that she went to college, eyeing higher degrees.
College Life and More
She enrolled at Deccan College, and she topped the Presidency final examinations which were supposed to bring her a scholarship to study abroad, but in reality, she received none. She started teaching at a college in Gujarat and simultaneously wrote to National Indian Association, seeking justice. And finally, she got justice in 1889. Sorabji went on the England journey to proceed for further education. In England, she was given special permission to take the Bachelor of Civil Law exams at Somerville College, Oxford. She was the first Indian woman who was ever permitted to study law at Oxford.
Cornelia Sorabji’s Chance at Excelling in the Glorious Legal Career – First Female Advocate of India
She graduated from Oxford and returned to India in 1894. It was not easy for her to start advocacy right away. First, she got involved in social and advisory works on behalf of ‘Purdahnashins’– those ladies who were prohibited from communicating with the outer world. Sorabji used to provide them with advice regarding their property. Later she was permitted to plea on their behalf before British agents. But this situation was not any better than having no voice at all. To get a better professional holding, Sorabji appeared for the LLB examination of the Bombay University. However, all her attempts went in vain because British India had the law that barred women from practising as a Barrister.
Sorabji did not lose hope and continued helping women as a legal advisory person, and she also presented women and minor girls in provincial courts. From 1902 to 1922, she helped over 600 women and minor girls across the whole India and sometimes, she even did not take any charge for it. In 1923, the law passed giving women permission to practise law. In 1924, the legal profession was opened, and Sorabji started practising in Kolkata. However, due to the male-biased situation, she was rather confined to giving opinions only. Later, she wrote about her experience in her book named “Between the Twilights”.
In 1929, Sorabji retired from her legal profession and settled in London. She died on 6th July 1954.
Although Cornelia Sorabji has been through discrimination of the patriarchy for her whole life, she never stopped fighting. She continued her legal advisory work and changed the definition of feminism in India. She is not only the first Indian female advocate, but she is also a true inspiration.
Written By: Subharthi Bhattacharya
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