Before the independence and long after the mighty freedom from the British, women did not stand much of chance in the field of Indian judiciary. Let alone advocacy; women were not even allowed to stand on the podium to plead for herself. It is quite hard to imagine in the backdrop of today’s scenario where lots of women practice law, but it was inevitable on the days of the 80s’. And now, if I plead to narrate the incredible journey of a woman who rose from the void to the First Female Supreme Court Justice of India, you might laugh at me. Well, it is no fairytale because the patriarchy cannot extinguish every fire, can they?
30th April 1927! Born to Khadeja Bibi and Annaveetil Meera Sahib of Travancore, Fathima Beevi always had the fire since the childhood days. After finishing her schooling in Catholicate High School, Fathima Beevi opted for BSc degree. She completed her BSc degree from the University College of Thiruvananthapuram. But her quench of knowledge refused to meet an end here.
She enrolled herself at the Trivandrum’s Law College to obtain a degree in law. Despite being one of five female students in her class, Fathima strived to be at the top of her class always. The number of female students dropped to a new low of only three, but Fathima’s stubborn willpower never dropped an inch.
Building the Career path towards the Indian Judiciary
In the year of 1950, Fathima Beevi finally graduated from the Law college and took the Indian Bar Council Examination. And to everyone’s astonishment, she topped the exam breaking another stereotype. She beat the Bar examination which has never been topped by any other women.
14th November 1950! Fathima Beevi finally started driving her career wheels in the lower judiciary of Kerala. After serving the judiciary as an advocate for eight years, she took the job of Munsif at the Kerala sub-ordinate Judicial Services in 1958. But her fate was bound to be stumbled upon being the justice from the beginning. So, in 1968, she finally got promoted as the subordinate judge of Kerala.
This was only a little start. Slowly, Fathima Beevi conquered the seat of chief judicial magistrate in 1972, and district & sessions judge in 1974. And after crossing the Tax Appellate Tribunal as a judicial member, she became the justice of High Court Kerala on 4th August 1983.
The Inspiring Event of becoming the First Female Justice of Supreme Court
After acquiring a temporary position at the Kerala High court in 1983, Fathima Beevi secured the places as permanent a year later in 1984. She served the judiciary in High court from 1984 to 1989. And 1989 became the year that changed the pathway for women in Indian judiciary.
Before the year 1989, the position of the Supreme Court Justice was a forbidden fruit for women. Only male judges were appointed, and that was a significant setback for the women in the legal field. But Fathima Beevi broke this stereotype. After retiring as a High Court judge in 29th April 1989, she was further appointed as the Supreme Court Judge in 6th October 1989 owing to her excellent calibre and expertise in the Indian legal field.
Wings for the Next Journey
The inspirational journey of Fathima Beevi did not just stop at Supreme Court. After retiring from Supreme Court, she served as a member of the National Human Rights Commission in the year 1992. Again in 1997, she was appointed as the Governor of the state Tamil Nadu. However, the last part of her journey ended with controversy in 2001.
After Fathima Beevi broke the stereotype of the Supreme Court, only five other women have made it to the point. Currently, there is only one woman judge amongst the 29 judges at the Apex court of India. And the grim situation becomes a little clearer with the ratio of only 68 women to 632 judges of all the courts in India. According to the words of Fathima Beevi,
“However, their participation is meagre. Their representation is not equal to men. There is a historical reason also for that. Women took to the field late. It will take time for women to get equal representation in the judiciary.”
Well, let us hope for the best, shall we?
Written By: Subharthi Bhattacharya
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