Why The Story Of M Fathima Beevi, The First Woman Supreme Court Judge, Is Especially Inspiring

M Fathima Beevi was the first woman judge to the Supreme Court as well as the first Muslim woman judge there. A tribute on her birthday today.

On 6th October 1989, Fathima Beevi became India’s first female judge in the Supreme Court. But, her hard work, struggle and thriving in a male-dominated field didn’t start then- it started way before that.

M. Fathima Beevi smashed the patriarchy- literally and metaphorically when she became India’s first female judge in the Supreme Court. It was something that most people never in their wildest dreams believed would happen.

Fathima Beevi threw the glass ceiling out of the window

The word ‘glass ceiling’ is an invisible barrier that prevents a demographic from rising beyond a particular level in a hierarchy. You can call it sexism. 

While, unfortunately, the gender representation in the field of law is still askew towards males, M Fathima Beevi worked towards a better world of inclusiveness. We now have 4 women judges in the Supreme Court, and while it does not sound like much, we have come a long way.

Beevi formally started working in the field of law on 14th November 1950. However, it took her about 39 years to become a judge in the SC. 

But, coming back to her first job- Beevi worked as an advocate in the lower judiciary in Kollam, Kerala. However, in 1950, Beevi faced questionable glances for being the only woman to wear a headscarf in the court. 

“Judicial service was more attractive than the practice at that time. Women were not very much encouraged by the general public- very few succeeded as lawyers.” she has said.

Most importantly, Beevi paved the way for education and law for Muslim girls and women. She is the first Muslim woman to be appointed to a higher judiciary in the country. She said:

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Fathima Beevi’s work for the women of our country

Eight years after working as an advocate, Beevi was appointed as a Munsiff in Kerala Subordinate Judicial Services. A decade later- in 1968, she was appointed as the subordinate judge. In 1972, she became a chief judicial magistrate, and the district and sessions judge in 1974, making her way through a male-dominated field, wearing a headscarf and smashing the patriarchy.

In January 1980, she became a judicial member of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal. Three years later, in 1983, she went on to become a judge for the Kerala High Court. 

Beevi’s rise to being the judge was a historic and emotional moment across the country, but being appointed the judge was just the start of her thriving career. By now, she had been in the field of law for over 30 years.

In the 80s, women weren’t even thought of as lawyers, let alone judges. But, M Fathima Beevi came along with her love for the law and her father’s dream, and inspired several people along the way.

In 1984, she was made the permanent judge of the Kerala High Court. She went on to work as a judge for another five years before retiring. But, life had a different plan for her. 

Fathima Beevi’s life had a different plan for her

Throughout her 39-year long career, Beevi changed several roles. She went on from being an advocate to the permanent judge of the Kerala High Court.

But indeed, life had a different plan for her. After retiring in April 1989, she got the news that she was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court in October 1989, the first woman judge of the apex court, and served for nearly 3 years before retiring in 29th April 1992. 

On January 25th, 1997, she was appointed Governor of Tamil Nadu, where she remained first when M Karunanidhi and then J. Jayalalitha was CM of the state. As a fallout of the corruption charges on J Jayalalitha and the resultant court cases, Governor M Fathima Beevi resigned in July 2001, and went back to her hometown to live as a private citizen.

How Fathima Beevi’s father played a big role in her career

Born on 30th April 1927, M Fathima Beevi was the eldest of eight siblings. She was born in Pathanamthitta town, in the state of Travancore in Kerala in Pre-Independence India. Her father, who was a government servant, never discriminated between his kids. He encouraged his daughters and sons to study equally

After Beevi passed her matric in 1943, she went on to study Science in Trivandrum (now Thiruvanthapuram, but then moved to Law at Govt Law College, Trivandrum.  

What is notable is that in that era too, she went alone to another city to do her studies, and her father supported this decision.

She now lives her life away from the spotlight. Her determination and simplicity are something everyone should adhere to. M Fathima Beevi defied all the odds and hit the gavel to success.

Image source: From Wikimedia Commons, taken by Augustus BinuIfOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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About the Author

Pranjali Hasotkar

I am a journalism student with a penchant for writing about women and social issues. I am an intersectional feminist and an aspiring journalist. I identify as she/her. read more...

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