The essence of law and order is to cement together the broken fractures of a society. Yet seeking a career in the field was earlier confined to men. But that changed in India when, towards the end of 19th century, Cornelia Sorabjee from Maharashtra became the first woman to practice law in India and Britain. She was also the first female graduate from Mumbai university and the first woman to study at the University of Oxford.
Her legacy continues in India, with women making a mark in male-dominated courtrooms in corporate as well as social issues. Often, women lawyers have stepped up in times when the nation is shook and even veterans would shy away from certain cases.
Here is a list of Indian women who are leading by example, in legal matters of the country.
Deepika Singh Rajawat
Deepika Singh Rajawat is an advocate at the Jammu and Kashmir High court.
She shot to fame when she took up the Kathua case, the gang rape and murder of eight-year-old girl in 2018. The case put her against powerful politicians ; but she went ahead with the case saying that being a woman, mother, lawyer and an activist, were enough reasons to provide the legal support.
In June 2018, the Indian Merchants Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ladies Wing awarded her the ‘Woman of the Year’ title her honesty and commitment.
She founded Voice for Rights, an NGO working for underprivileged women and children, in 2013.
A senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India, Menaka Guruswamy has spearheaded some key changes in the law over the last 11 years. Her achievements include the landmark judgement made in 2018 to abolish Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, decriminalising homosexuality in India. Almost a year later, Menaka and her co-lawyer Arundhati Katju came out as gay and said they were in a relationship.
After earning bachelors in law from the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bangalore, in 1997, she read law in University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar in 2000. She also holds LLM from Harvard Law School.
Menaka is also an advisor to international institutes including UNICEF in New York and South Sudan on International Human Rights Law. She was also associated with the constitution-making process in Nepal. She was among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2019.
Recently, speaking on being a woman lawyer, she said,
“The law is a wonderful profession. But in India, as a woman and as a woman lawyer, you have to listen to your heart and say that you will get there. Because everything around you says that you can’t. But times are changing, things are changing, and there are wonderful young women who just want to have their piece of the courtroom.”
An independent litigator since 2011, Arundhati Katju was part of the bench that decriminalised homosexuality in India last year. Along with Menaka Guruswamy, she was named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2019.
Arundhati practises in India and New York across areas like white collar defense, legal aid, and LGBT rights, among others.
After finishing LLB from NLSIU in 2005, she earned an LLM from Columbia Law School as a Human Rights Fellow and James Kent Scholar.
The lawyer has also worked with India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in drafting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
Vrinda Grover is a lawyer and an advocate for women’s rights. She has crusaded many cases like the Soni Suri rape torture case, 1984 anti-Sikh riots, and 1987 Hashimpura police killings, to name a few
At 49, she was among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2013.
After studying History at the St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, she pursued law studies at the Delhi University and Masters in law from New York University.
Vrinda is now a board member at Green Peace and a trustee at the independent think-tank Centre for Social Justice. She had earlier served as an executive director at Multiple Action Research Group (MARG).
An advocate at the Supreme Court of India, Karuna practices in India and New York across civil, media, gender, and commercial and constitutional law.
Her prominent works include a pro bono case where she sought justice for victims of 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. She is also known for working on the anti-rape laws in the country. Forbes magazine calls her ‘Mind that Matters’.
Karuna has consulted with various international organisations including the UNICEF, the UNDP and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). She has also worked with the governments of India, Pakistan, the Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh, among others.
Besides bachelors and masters in Law from the University of Cambridge, she also holds LLM from Columbia Law school.
Zia Mody is a corporate attorney, specialising in securities law, corporate merger and acquisition law, and private equity. She has also founded her own corporate law firm, AZB and Partners.
She has handled top cases like Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover at $2.3 billion, and entertainment giant Disney’s acquisition of UTV as well.
She pursued her bachelors and masters in law from the University of Cambridge and Harvard Law School, respectively.
An advocate at the supreme court of India for over 17 years, she is known for taking the Bilkis Bano case to the highest court in the country and sticking with the victim for over 16 years.
Since completing LLB from the University of Rajasthan in 1994, she has been practicing in public interest litigation, constitutional law, criminal matters, rent and eviction cases, and human rights cases, to name a few.
In January 2017, she founded Free Legal Aid Group (FLAG), an organisation that offers legal aid to juveniles who wound up on the wrong side of the law.