gender inequality

Four women judges in the Kerala High Court is a record, but is this enough?

The representation of women in the higher judiciary remains low, with experts blaming it on gender bias and lack of incentives.

On October 5, Justice V Shircy was appointed an additional judge in the Kerala High Court, taking its count of sitting women judges to four, the highest in its history.

The three others are Justice PV Asha, Justice Anu Sivaraman and Justice Mary Joseph.

Shircy, who earlier served as a principal and sessions judge, and Joseph, who was a district judge, joined the High Court from the bench. Asha and Sivaraman were government pleaders and came from the bar.

The latest appointment has taken the percentage of women judges in the Kerala High Court to 10.5% but this is still lower than their percentage in other High Courts – 25.6% in Delhi, 15.2% in Punjab and Haryana, and 12.5% in Bombay.

“In 2014, I was the only woman judge in the Kerala High Court,” said Asha. “The next year, we got two more. And now with Shircy’s appointment, the representation of women has increased to four.”

However, Asha said it should not have taken such a long time to appoint more women to the higher judiciary.

She added, “There is no dearth of efficient women judges in Kerala. At present, women’s representation in the lower judiciary is 28.6%. So I am confident that the number of women judges will increase in future.”

While women judges struggle to make it to the higher judiciary, some have a more difficult time than others. Sivaraman said women from the bar faced more difficulties to become judges compared to their counterparts from the bench.

“Women judges in the lower courts can hope to become judges in the higher courts, but those from the bar have to stay in the demanding profession for long to make the cut,” she said.

Sivaraman said the legal profession should be made more attractive for women, and suggested that providing crèches and offering financial support to set up their own offices would help.

She added, “Many competent women have been overlooked for appointment as judges for different reasons. I think the number of women judges would increase if the system provided a level playing field in the selection process.”

Equal opportunity

Retired judge Fathima Beevi – who was the first woman to be appointed a judge in the Supreme Court – said she wanted to see more women in the higher judiciary. “It is good to know the Kerala High Court now has four sitting women judges, but I don’t think it is a big number,” she said. “The Supreme Court should appoint more women judges.”

Beevi agreed with Asha’s contention that there was no dearth of competent women judges in the state. “The selection panel should concentrate only on merit to pick the right candidates,” she said. “If we wish to see more women opt for the legal profession, then they should not face discrimination during the selection of judges.”

The Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association has raised the issue of women's representation with the apex court. It has said that the collegium – a body of senior Supreme Court judges in change of appointments to the higher judiciary – must shed its gender bias in recommending the names of advocates for appointment as judges of the apex court.

“There are just 62 women judges compared to 611 male judges in High Courts in the entire country,” said Prerna Kumari, general secretary of the lawyers’ group.

According to a media report that appeared late last year, nine of the 24 state High Courts did not have a single woman judge while three had only one woman judge. In the Supreme Court, it added, Justice R Banumathi was the sole woman among 29 judges.

Kumari hoped other High Courts in India would take a cue from Kerala and appoint more women judges. She said, “There should be greater representation of women judges in our legal system. And there should be a balance between bar and bench while selecting the judges.”

Pointing out that there was a spike in the number of women lawyers in the lower and higher judiciary, and that many of them were associating themselves with central judicial panels or working as amici curiae, she hoped the number of women judges would rise too.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BULLETIN BY 

In a first, some of the finest Indian theatre can now be seen on your screen

A new cinematic production brings to life thought-provoking plays as digital video.

Though we are a country besotted with cinema, theatre remains an original source of provocative stories, great actors, and the many deeply rooted traditions of the dramatic arts across India. CinePlay is a new, ambitious experiment to bring the two forms together.

These plays, ‘filmed’ as digital video, span classic drama genre as well as more experimental dark comedy and are available on Hotstar premium, as part of Hotstar’s Originals bouquet. “We love breaking norms. And CinePlay is an example of us serving our consumer’s multi-dimensional personality and trusting them to enjoy better stories, those that not only entertain but also tease the mind”, says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.

The first collection of CinePlays feature stories from leading playwrights, like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Badal Sircar amongst others and directed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor. They also star some of the most prolific names of the film and theatre world like Nandita Das, Shreyas Talpade, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe and Lillete Dubey.

The idea was conceptualised by Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das, the actor and director who had early experience with street theatre. “The conversation began with Subodh and me thinking how can we make theatre accessible to a lot more people” says Nandita Das. The philosophy is that ‘filmed’ theatre is a new form, not a replacement, and has the potential to reach millions instead of thousands of people. Hotstar takes the reach of these plays to theatre lovers across the country and also to newer audiences who may never have had access to quality theatre.

“CinePlay is merging the language of theatre and the language of cinema to create a third unique language” says Subodh. The technique for ‘filming’ plays has evolved after many iterations. Each play is shot over several days in a studio with multiple takes, and many angles just like cinema. Cinematic techniques such as light and sound effects are also used to enhance the drama. Since it combines the intimacy of theatre with the format of cinema, actors and directors have also had to adapt. “It was quite intimidating. Suddenly you have to take something that already exists, put some more creativity into it, some more of your own style, your own vision and not lose the essence” says Ritesh Menon who directed ‘Between the Lines’. Written by Nandita Das, the play is set in contemporary urban India with a lawyer couple as its protagonists. The couple ends up arguing on opposite sides of a criminal trial and the play delves into the tension it brings to their personal and professional lives.

Play

The actors too adapted their performance from the demands of the theatre to the requirements of a studio. While in the theatre, performers have to project their voice to reach a thousand odd members in the live audience, they now had the flexibility of being more understated. Namit Das, a popular television actor, who acts in the CinePlay ‘Bombay Talkies’ says, “It’s actually a film but yet we keep the characteristics of the play alive. For the camera, I can say, I need to tone down a lot.” Vickram Kapadia’s ‘Bombay Talkies’ takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as seven personal stories unravel through powerful monologues, touching poignant themes such as child abuse, ridicule from a spouse, sacrifice, disillusionment and regret.

The new format also brought many new opportunities. In the play “Sometimes”, a dark comedy about three stressful days in a young urban professional’s life, the entire stage was designed to resemble a clock. The director Akarsh Khurana, was able to effectively recreate the same effect with light and sound design, and enhance it for on-screen viewers. In another comedy “The Job”, presented earlier in theatre as “The Interview”, viewers get to intimately observe, as the camera zooms in, the sinister expressions of the interviewers of a young man interviewing for a coveted job.

Besides the advantages of cinematic techniques, many of the artists also believe it will add to the longevity of plays and breathe new life into theatre as a medium. Adhir Bhat, the writer of ‘Sometimes’ says, “You make something and do a certain amount of shows and after that it phases out, but with this it can remain there.”

This should be welcome news, even for traditionalists, because unlike mainstream media, theatre speaks in and for alternative voices. Many of the plays in the collection are by Vijay Tendulkar, the man whose ability to speak truth to power and society is something a whole generation of Indians have not had a chance to experience. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for the whole project.

Play

Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, stands out with its Originals bouquet bringing completely new formats and stories, such as these plays, to its viewers. Twenty timeless stories from theatre will be available to its subscribers. Five CinePlays, “Between the lines”, “The Job”, “Sometimes”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Typecast”, are already available and a new one will release every week starting March. To watch these on Hotstar Premium, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Hotstar by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.