On Women’s Day: Who wants to become Mr. Ram Jethmalani?

A well-meaning friend on the eve of International Women’s Day told me that I should try and appear for judicial examination instead of pursuing my career in litigation. Litigation, as per him, was not for women and that judiciary does provide a certain ‘work-life’ balance. It seems the advice was pursuant to a discussion he had with his friend who said, ‘Yaar! Kitni auratein Ram Jethmalani ban gayi.’ While I have nothing against judiciary or being a judicial officer. It is definitely a well-respected stature and well-sought after as well. Yet, not everyone becomes a Judge.

I retorted, almost caustically, that a woman has to dream to become Mr. Ram Jethmalani; besides women have to come into litigation in order to set an example for other young women, to aspire to get into litigation. Of course the well-meaning friend understood my stance on the same and dropped the well-meaning advice but it left me thinking as to whether litigation is for women or not? Is it important that women should come into judiciary? How does one achieve the unachievable?

My pinned tweet on twitter is a certain quote by the famous Justice of Supreme Court of United States – Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She says, and I quote, “When I am asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court? I say, ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” It is pertinent to mention here that a full bench in Supreme Court of USA comprises of 9 Judges. The Supreme Court of India has a sanctioned strength of 31 Judges. Presently, her Ladyship Justice Bhanumathi is the only female Judge in Supreme Court out of the 25 Judges comprising the actual present strength. The elevation of Ms. Indu Malhotra, Senior Advocate, is still in conundrum. Since independence there have been 6 female Judges in Supreme Court.

As per a news report in Indian Express which quotes the latest statistics published by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, the representation of women in judiciary is skewed with about 27% female judges in lower judiciary across the country, about 10 % in High Court and less than 1 % in Supreme Court. In a country with 48% women populace, this statistic is not very encouraging. I am sure this number must be skewed as far as women in active litigation goes.

Traditionally, a female litigating lawyer will be engaged by a client in matrimonial cases, or civil suits. But, when it comes to active criminal litigation, not many clients feel comfortable in hiring a female litigator. Also, in matters where stakes are high, the gender-bias sets in. As a young female litigator, who is just starting her career, I am asked many times by clients, ‘But, will you be able to handle this?’ ‘Young’ and ‘female’ are two words which send the alarm bells ringing in the heads of many clients.

I don’t want to make being a litigating lawyer, a gender issue. But, I do experience that for a woman being a litigating lawyer is exceptionally challenging. Whereas a man does not have as many responsibilities as a woman does, a woman has to don many hats to balance out work as well as other commitments. A woman is always the primary caregiver of the family. This does not just stem out of the patriarchal mindset of the society but also the natural instincts that a woman is born with. No, I am not saying that a man is not born with these natural instincts, all I am saying is that for a woman it is implicit in her nature to look after her family, rise up to the responsibilities and to ensure that a certain ‘work-life’ balance is maintained even if that demands her to be a ‘Superwoman’ of sorts.

So how does one become Mr. Ram Jethmalani? Well! I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t even know if I, or other female litigators, aspire to be Mr. Ram Jethmalani. I don’t know if Mr. Ram Jethmalani himself knew that he wanted to be that big? We all aspire to be better than our old self. That is ingrained in our hearts and thus, the tougher path is chosen, newer challenges are overcome, lessons are learnt. There are benchmarks in every profession and for every young lawyer, there is always an aspiration.

I remember from my MBA classes, the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs- the bottom of the pyramid was physiological (roti, kapda aur makaan), then safety, love and belonging, esteem and the top of the pyramid was self-actualization. Becoming Mr. Ram Jethmalani will be to reach the top of the pyramid, the dream of self-actualization.

While I write this blog-post, my biggest fear is that it will be interpreted that I aspire to become Mr. Ram Jethmalani. This will be an interesting topic for corridor gossips and/or the behind-the-back sneering by fellow colleagues. Some of the courageous lot will also tell me that you are being too ambitious, others (a minuscule few) will encourage me to aspire to be one. But, the question is do I want to be Mr. Ram Jethmalani? The answer to it is, I don’t think so. The reason is quite simple, no one can be him. He is an institution in himself and such aspirations are delusional. The point I am trying to make here is that I want to be me and maybe my self-actualization goal is to be able to encourage more women to take up litigation full time. So, Yes, I would like to see more women as litigators. Yes, I would want to see more women in the judiciary and Yes, I look forward to addressing a bench comprising of only female Judges in Supreme Court. I know someday that will happen. I just hope I live to see that day.

Until next time.

Disclaimer: The views are personal with utmost respect to the legal living legend Mr. Ram Jethmalani Sir.

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