How SC Judge Indu Malhotra Struggled Her Way Through Gender Bias In The Legal Profession

The ‘male-dominated’ legal profession is not a cake walk for women. Supreme Court Judge Indu Malhotra spoke about her struggles up the career ladder. 

Many landmark judgements were recently passed by the Supreme Court, each more novel and progressive than the other. Also greatly favouring women and gender equality.

For us women, there was an added element to celebrate for – Indu Malhotra being an integral part of the bench of judges passing these highly controversial and progressive verdicts. She had recently been appointed as the 8th woman Supreme Court Judge since independence, and her revelations about the extent of gender bias prevalent in the legal profession are shocking.     




At a panel discussion about ‘Women in the legal profession’ recently organised by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in collaboration with Oxford University, Indu Malhotra spoke about a very tough path that she had to take for climbing up the career ladder amidst all the gender bias that exists in the legal profession.

Indu Malhotra said, “There is a gender bias. People think women judges are not good enough to grapple with complicate commercial matters. Sometimes, even a senior judge would turn around to say that you would not understand it. So, you have to work twice as hard; you have to fight it out and struggle your way through!”   

The hard work

Indu Malhotra had to put in a lot of additional effort, work in the lower strata of lawyers for a couple of decades, to prove her worth before venturing into higher posts. Not many wanted a woman to fight their case. However capable she was, they preferred male lawyers. How can a women’s feeble mind ever be able to comprehend complex legal matters, right?  

The notion that ‘women are for lighter and more gentler work,’ is stuck so fast in people’s minds, that they reject outright the possibility of women’s capabilities in handling different issues other than family matters.     

It’s very hard to accept this, and sad to know that bias still lurks in the legal fraternity, among the very people responsible for upholding and protecting Article 14 and the fundamental right to equality granted to all of us by the constitution of India.    

The reality of the situation is – they might be lawyers, judges, or even the Chief Justice of India – they are still very much connected to, and a part of the society that we all live in. So, it would be very hard for them to separate themselves from the discrimination that has been attached to women for centuries now.   

Prove their capabilities

Legal profession for women is no different from any other profession – they must toil very hard for people to start recognising them and believing in their capabilities. So, instead of just celebrating the 8 women judges that the Supreme Court has got on its bench till now, it is more important to contemplate: why only 8 in the 70 odd years of independence?

From Indu Malhotra’s speech, it is clear that the one thing that was stopping women from venturing into the legal profession, is the very same – ‘male domination and bias’. It can be changed only when more and more women take up the profession. If we look at women students in law colleges now, the numbers are indeed a positive sign. It’s definitely going to be hard for all of them. But major changes can be and must be brought by them alone – from the grassroots level.

Let’s hope that with these new women lawyers, the legal profession becomes the pioneer of change with zero gender bias. Also that more and more women judges take higher positions in courts, and the number of 8 judges multiplies at the apex court.    

Image Source – Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy FB. 

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