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Madhavi Divan is one of only three women to have held the office of Additional Solicitor General of India.
In this Women’s Day special, we asked her what explains poor women’s representation at the Bar, the challenges she faced as a young mother trying to establish herself in the profession, and more.
Was it always going to be the law for you?
Most definitely not. I come from a family of very diverse interests, but law was never in the picture. It was a shot in the dark, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I had never interned while at law school, never done any moots, and in fact, I never even entered a court room before I received my law degree.
I was fortunate enough to gain a place in Cambridge’s Tripos program, but if you asked me to get through a five-year program at one of the National Law Schools, I don’t think I would have made it through! It would have been much too much for me.
Can you tell us about your time at Janak Dwarkadas' chambers? What were some of the significant takeaways from your time there?
I was in Bombay interning at the offices of a family friend. He, however, one day, told me, 'You will get thoroughly bored here so I have spoken to Mr Janak Dwarkadas and I think you will benefit from a stint at his chambers'.
I didn’t know who he was back then. In fact, he wasn’t even a designated senior back then. He did have a thriving commercial practice. I told the family friend that I didn’t want to be at the Bombay High Court and was quite happy where I was; to which he said I have already called him, so the least you can do is call him and tell him you won't be turning up.
I therefore called him, but he was so busy that even before I could have my say, he said meet me at such and such time at the Bombay High Court library and just hung up, leaving me no option but to go.
In the first few months, we hardly communicated; he was extremely busy rushing from one court to another and since his chamber was under renovation, we had no place to go back to after court.
As far as takeaways go, I think being involved in conferences and sub-consciously learning the art of how to approach a problem was very important. I didn’t really think about it back then, but with the benefit of hindsight, I see what I gained from these conferences.
The other thing was drafting. I was reasonably good at it, so some work came my way and it was really challenging because these were pleadings on the original side, and therefore involved a lot of strategizing. It was fun to the impact of the backroom work on the outcome of a matter.
I also learned the rigours of written submission in that chamber.
All in all, I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with him; I consider myself his junior to this day.