The Big Story: Glass bar

The Supreme Court Collegium’s decision to recommend the elevation of senior advocate Indu Malhotra to be a judge of the apex court is welcome news, since it represents the first time a woman lawyer has been directly recommended to India’s top court. In suggesting that it is possible for women to take many routes to storm this traditionally male bastion, the decision to pick Malhotra sends a message over and above the quality of judicial thinking that the senior advocate will herself add to the bench. But her appointment is also significant because of how skewed the gender distribution at the Supreme Court, and among India’s higher judiciary in general, actually is.

Malhotra will be just the seventh woman to become a Supreme Court if the recommendation is accepted. Once this happens, Malhotra will be one of two women judges out of 27 judges at the court, with her compatriot Justice Bhanumati ending her tenure not far in the future. The very first woman to take a seat at the Supreme Court was appointed in 1989, and the next appointment did not come until 1994. Looking at it from another angle, since 1950 there have been 229 appointments to the Supreme Court, not counting the two from Tuesday. Only 6 were women, a figure that amounts to 2%.

The rest of the higher judiciary is only marginally better. In 2016, there was the heartening sight of women judges at the top in the four major high courts of the country, Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras. But the overall percentage of women in the high courts remained around 10% of the total strength, with some high courts doing better than others. Even at the lower court level, the figure is just 28% approximately, and it appears to be worse within the legal profession, with just 10% of lawyers being women despite the fact that students taking the law exams are split evenly between men and women.

This lack of diversity is felt most acutely when it comes to women’s issues, where you will see five- or nine-judge benches stuffed with old men deliberating over things like the agency of adult women, triple talaq or marital rape. But it does not confine itself to what are known as women’s issues since practically any matter can be seen through a gender lens, and a wealth of experience will only aid the Supreme Court as it seeks to interpret the Constitution and protect the rights of Indian citizens.

To have half of the population be represented by just 10% of the higher judiciary is a deeply problematic situation, one that the Supreme Court Collegium, in its singularly powerful role has the potential to upend. Many have called for affirmative action or other means by which women are giving a helping hand from the entry into law itself, where the gender drop-off is steep. These suggestions need to be heard and taken on board if India’s higher judiciary is to be truly representative of the country it is meant to reflect and protect the rights of.


  1. “The recent trend shows that the Chief Justice appears to be allocating cases on a selective basis. Again, it is not my endeavour to criticise the outcomes or judgments in such cases. But the manner of allocation raises serious issues about the independence of the judiciary,” writes Dushyant Dave in the Indian Express.
  2. “[This] is not a Christmas story but it fits well enough with Christian themes and therefore could perhaps be said to suit the month albeit martyrdom might fit better with Easter. Uncomfortable death, however, is just the beginning; the rest, involving a Georgian saint martyred in Iran whose bones eventually turned up in Goa, is more extraordinary,” writes Anabel George in the Telegraph.
  3. “The emphasis in the western democracies is upon the disclosure of the source of funding, whereas our electoral bond scheme puts a gloss of opacity around such disclosures, which may lead to the creation of a safe haven for corporate funding of political parties,” writes Suresh Kumar Goyal in the Tribune.
  4. A surprise New Year’s Day tweet by President Donald Trump in which he appeared to decree an end to U.S. aid for Pakistan, sent U.S. officials scrambling to suspend security assistance without even knowing how much aid they were freezing, report Jonathan Landay, Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott for Reuters.


Don’t miss

Soumya Rao writes about how Indian television is missing the mark on same-sex relationships.

The insinuation that homosexuality is a forbidden fantasy and the half-baked plot notwithstanding, the episode was hailed as a welcome beginning for programming centred on same-sex relationships in Indian television. In these two years, such programming could have come a long way. Sadly, it hasn’t.

In the interim, shows with LGBT themes have sprung into life on the internet, forming core or sub-plotlines on multiple web series. The result is a mixed bag: most miss the mark, but the one-odd show that is right on target holds out the promise of better days.

In what is perhaps a sign of inclusiveness, a number of shows built on the familiar premise of a group of friends coming of age through a series of adventures now often include at least one gay character.