Back in England, when the first few Victorian ladies started out the ideology of feminism, they did not have any idea that trail will come this far, did they? I guess not. And blessed by the British colonialism, Indian feminism started out right away as well. During the mid-eighteen century, Indian feminism took its first step by banning ‘Sati’ as a custom. But still, it was a long way off the shore. Many good laws in favour of women came to exist; yet every one of those judgements descended from male judges only. But, until 1959! What happened in 1959? Well, keep reading.
The Birth of a Fighter
4th May 1905 was the day that changed the game of Indian Judiciary ever since. Born in a Syrian Christian family in Kerala, Anna Chandy was a stubborn child in her childhood days. And after she completed school in Kerala, she opted for studying law as her post-graduation degree. Despise of strong opposition from her family; she enrolled for the law course at the Government Law College in Kerala in 1927. She was the first woman in Kerala to be a lawyer.
Every Fighter Shines through their Struggles – Justice Anna Chandy was no exception
For a meritorious student like Anna, the degree Law shined on her like a finely curved golden crown. In 1929, she completed her law degree with distinction. And after that, there was no stopping. She was appointed to the Bar the same year, and Anna started fighting criminal law cases in a male-dominated field of India.
But it would demean her if we say she was just a successful lawyer because she was more than that. She took her fight outside the courtroom and started fighting. Women’s right was one of her fortes. In 1930, she published a women’s magazine named ‘Shrimati’. This was the first women’s magazine in the Malayalam language. Not only this magazine talked about women’s regular life, but it also questioned women’s freedom and the concept of widow remarriage. And way before the inception of Indian Constitution, she picked up topics like ‘Equal Wages’ in her magazine.
A Lioness in the field of Politics – 1932 to 1934
Alongside publishing a magazine, Anna decided to join politics in 1930. She opted to stand for the election of the representative body of the Travancore State. And it was way harder fight than those of the courtrooms. The opponent tried to demean her character by spreading scandalous rumours about her. A slander campaign against a woman – it was quite evident that she would lose the election.
But not the second time! She stood again for the second time in 1932, and this time, her popularity was through the roofs. And she won the seat in the assembly. During her tenure of 2 years, Anna’s powerful quote about giving Governmental jobs to women is still a milestone –
“From the elaborate petition, it is clear that the plaintiff’s immediate demand is to ban all efforts by women to gain employment, on the grounds that they are a bunch of creatures created for the domestic pleasures of men, and that their lives outside the hallowed kitchen-temples will harm familial happiness.”
– Anna Chandy
But she was also a believer of equality. In 1935, she argued about the law that why women criminals cannot be given death penalty.
Anna Chandy’s Journey to the Seat of a Justice – A True Emperor
In 1937, Anna Chandy was appointed as the first female Munsif or the lowest level judicial officer by the then Dewan of Travancore state. This was a revolutionary step for the women in the field of law, and that path paved a little wider in the post-independent era of India. After 1956 merger of Travancore and Cochin States with Malabar to form Kerala, Anna Chandy was appointed as the High Court Judge in the year 1959.
Possibly, she is the second in the world and the first amongst all the Commonwealth nations to hold such a position. And her reign subsisted till the year 1967. Nevertheless, she is called the ‘First Generation Feminist’ of India.
The Afterlife of a First Generation Feminist
After retiring in 1967, she joined National Law Commission. She published her autobiography in 1973 and died at the age of 91, in 1996.
It is of no doubt that the path; she showed in her lifetime, will shine for the women afterwards. Not only did she fight for women, but she also secured their place in the judiciary as well. May her journey never ends!
Written By: Subharthi Bhattacharya