At an event held by Adhivakta Parishad, Delhi to celebrate International Women's Day 2022, judges of the Delhi High Court, Justices Prathiba M Singh and Rekha Palli spoke on the subject of women's empowerment.
Justice Singh began her address by commending the Delhi Bar, where she practiced as a lawyer before her elevation.
"I didn't come from a law background, I was completely unknown in Delhi. The Delhi Bar needs to be commended in the manner in which it celebrates Indian-ness! Nobody asks you where you are from or discriminates. Delhi is a confluence of all Indians and we are all very lucky to be in this kind of city or Bar," she said.
However, she recalled that despite the welcoming nature of the Bar, the retention rate of female lawyers in the profession was extremely low when she started her career.
"When we were younger, about 20-30% (of the Bar) were women and as we moved forward, only 3 or 4% would be left. But that has changed in 10-15 years. Now, I see women are staying on in the profession," she said.
Justice Singh underscored the need for female legal professionals to be resilient and work hard, and to not restrict themselves to family law, which is stereotypically considered to be the domain of female lawyers.
"You can only make it with hard work and merit. Don't ever seek sympathy. Be clued into current affairs, read business newspapers. Women lawyers don't have to just practice family law. We have to work harder, no doubt about that."
She noted that there has been an increase in women's participation in the legal field, but emphasised that the same can only be attributed to competence and merit.
"It's not because they are women, but because of sheer competence and merit. As we go forward, this will increase. Women have many options, you can be contributing anywhere. A woman lawyer can do very well in whichever field you choose," the judge said.
She said that even though more than 50% of of the recent recruits for entry-level posts in the judiciary in Delhi are accomplished women, the general gender ratio in the legal field at the moment leaves much to be desired.
"They are all toppers from several excellent law schools! They will all grow in the system. Numbers today are not very promising, though better, so there are clear chances that women are going to come up," she surmised.
Interestingly, she remarked that a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic has been the switch to hybrid courts, which has enabled several women to join or rejoin the legal profession.
In her address, Justice Rekha Palli highlighted the importance of improving the implementation of the statutes and reservation in place to achieve gender parity. For the same, she opined that women themselves have to take the reins.
"Fact is, there are not enough women in the driving seat. You can make as many laws as you want, implementation is the problem. Some women stalwarts have to come forward and mentor the young generation."
Just as Justice Singh did, Justice Palli too spoke of the importance of persistence and confidence.
"In the legal profession, it was considered a profession for aggressive people. I will advise everyone here to not use aggression in court! This profession is not only for aggressive people. Be calm, persistent and confident. That is for every profession," she said.
She concluded her address with some sage advice to women to stand up for themselves whenever needed, and whenever they have been wronged.
The judges felicitated female staff members of the Delhi High Court.
Advocate Monika Arora and Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma also addressed the gathering at the event.
Advocate Arora exalted India's history as far as gender equality goes, especially when compared to western feminist movements.
"Men and women in India together fought for women's equality. The women in the West were not as fortunate. They had to fight. Till 1920, women didn't have to right to vote in the US," she pointed out.
ASG Sharma too adopted a similar view and spoke of women's inherent "shakti" as expounded even in the Manusmriti.
[Read a live account of the event here]