Women lawyers in the Telangana High Court on Monday met with Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and submitted a representation, urging him to consider the elevation of women lawyers from the Telangana Bar for judgeship.
The lawyers alleged gender bias in the selection process and said that though several women lawyers had expressed their inclination to be considered for elevation on par with their male counterparts, "list after list is being sent to to the Supreme Court Collegium without considering and including any women lawyers."
The letter, which was signed by around 120 women lawyers, stated, "We wish to bring to your kind attention the marginalisation of women in being considered and selected for judgeship for the High Court of Telangana...It hasn’t been easy for women to earn recognition in a profession which has primarily been the domain of men."
"However even as we have advanced in our profession, we find that we are under represented as Judges. Our concern is not without basis. Since the inception of the erstwhile High Court of Andhra Pradesh in the year 1956, it was 187 Judges who presided in the AP HC and subsequently 25 Judges in the HCs of Telangana and AP. In all these 63 years of our judiciary, there have been only 8 women judges," the letter pointed out.
The letter also outlined the female Judges who had served in the HC. It stated that Justice S V Maruti was the first woman Judge to be elevated from judicial service in 1992, followed by Justice Anis, who was elevated in 2016 and Justice Uma Devi and Justice Rajani, who were elevated in 2017.
In 2019, Justice Sridevi was transferred to the High Court of Telangana, increasing the count of female judges.
Justice Amareshwari was the first woman Judge to be elevated from the Bar in the year 1977, which was followed by elevation of women lawyers Justice Meena Kumari in 1998 and Justice Rohini in 2001. After a long gap of 16 years, in 2017, Justice K Vijayalakshmi, who is currently serving in the Andhra HC was elevated to Judgeship.
"This track record of elevation of women judicial officers and lawyers to judgeships is appalling. It begs the question if this record can be explained merely as an absence of distinguished women lawyers and women judicial officers in our courts. The answer is definitely in the negative," the letter stated.
It pointed out that male lawyers who worked as Government Pleaders and Standing Counsels were often elevated for judgeship, while female lawyers who worked in the same posts were rarely considered for elevation.
"Gradually, many of these well known women lawyers, even as they waited patiently, became age-barred and thus became ineligible," the letter states.
"The absence of merit, income and reportable judgments are being argued as grounds for rejection of women lawyers for elevation. We cannot help but think that it is not merit but gender discrimination at work. We request your Hon’ble Self to kindly recognize and take into consideration this primary axis of bias and accordingly make the recommendations to the Supreme Court Collegium," it added.
Responding to the representation, the Chief Justice is learnt to have said that while they definitely wanted more women lawyers to be elevated from the Bar, the requirements of the Memorandum of Procedure for Appointment of Judges were not being satisfied; particularly the income parameter, which states that lawyers should have a net income of Rs 7 lakh per annum.
The women lawyers then requested that this criteria be relaxed for them, as they could not be expected to have such a large income, due to breaks that they take in their careers.