The photograph tells us that the collegium recognises that men alone cannot continue to rule on crucial constitutional and legal matters. This is welcome course correction and it’s hard to imagine sliding back. One can only hope representation will expand in the years to come.
The photograph also acknowledges a new generation of women who are aspirational, driven and, given the opportunity, as likely to succeed as men. We have just seen it in sport where women have returned from Tokyo with medals.
In the lower judiciary, 36.45% of judges and magistrates are women. Of the candidates who qualified in 2019 for admission to the national law universities, 44% are women. Women don’t lack ambition. They lack support, from physical infrastructure (toilets and day-care facilities) to administrative (sabbaticals) in order to plug the leaking pipeline that lead so many to quit jobs mid-career as their children reach crucial board exam years and parents begin to age.
Why does representation matter? After all, the biological fact of gender doesn’t automatically qualify you as either feminist or misogynist. Male judges have made progressive observations on a range of issues from triple talaq to privacy and adultery. Women judges don’t always root for their gender — it was a woman judge who acquitted a 39-year-old man of POCSO charges because there was no “skin-to-skin” contact. Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi was absolved of sexual harassment charges by a three-member committee of peers that included two women.
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. It’s the multitude of voices that make democracy vibrant. This needs to be reflected in all its institutions, including Parliament and the media.
The photograph signals that moment when the SC finally set right a traditional omission. And for that reason alone, it is historic.
[First published in the Hindustan Times on September 3, 2021]