Why I’m cheering the appointment of 3 women judges to the Supreme Court

A world that comprises diverse human beings across religion, caste, gender, class, geography, ideology, cannot be governed by a singular set of upper class, dominant caste, majority religion men, I write in the Hindustan Times

Making History: In 71 years, the Supreme Court has had only 8 women judges. Then, in a single day, three new appointments. Pic courtesy: Bar&Bench

The photograph should be framed in every law school, preserved for history books and written about in inspirational tracts for children.

It’s the one where four women judges — three freshly elevated, one of whom, BV Nagarathna is slated to become our first woman chief justice (CJI) in 2027 though only for 36 days — flank the current CJI, NV Ramana.

Given that it took 39 years to get our first woman Supreme Court (SC) judge, Fathima Beevi in 1989, and 71 years to get eight women judges, the photograph is significant.

Is it picture perfect? Far from it. While it signals the closing of the gender gap in the higher judiciary, the larger issue of diversity remains. Do we have enough representation from among the minorities? Where are the Dalits, Adivasis and LGBTQ judges? “The swearing-in of three women is unprecedented,” says Nikita Sonawane, co-founder, Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project. “But we still have a long way to go.”

Women show the way

It cannot be a coincidence that countries headed by women are doing comparatively better at battling the Covid-19 pandemic

Angela Merkel’s Germany witnessed a high infection but comparatively low death rate. Creative Commons/eugenbittner

Six days before Kerala recorded its first coronavirus case on January 30, health minister KK Shailaja made plans. She was following the news from Wuhan, China, where many students from the state were studying, and the minister knew there was no room for complacency.

The state’s international airports began screening, a control room was set up, and contact tracing and testing started. By early February, Kerala had shut down public events, movie halls, and schools. Children would get midday meals at home and community kitchens were set up in villages and municipal areas.

On March 24, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown, Kerala had 104 confirmed cases, roughly a fifth of the 564 in India. By April 15, only 3.38% or 387 cases of 11,439 cases in India were from Kerala. There have been three deaths so far.

To give sole credit to Shailaja for the state’s containment of the virus would be an exaggeration. Kerala’s health care system and its high ranking on human development indices such as literacy and nutritional status give it an edge.