Out of 29 Supreme Court judges, only one - Justice R Banumathi - is a woman. Since independence, only 6 women judges have been elevated to Supreme Court out of total 229 judges appointed from 1950.
Its worse in High Courts across the country where there are a total of only 62 women judges compared to a total 611 male judges .
In 24 state high courts, 9 of them did not have a single woman judge while three high courts had only one woman judge.
Bombay High Court has highest number of women judges at 10 followed by Delhi and Punjab & Haryana High, both with 9 woman judges each.
When the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association brought these stunning facts to the attention of the constitution bench which has initiated the process of improving the collegiums alleging a gender bias and discrimination against women in appointment to High Courts and Supreme Court, Justice J S Khehar promised more female judges in the higher judiciary.
The issue also figured in the suggestions given to the court by legal luminaries and which was compiled by senior counsel Arvind Datar and ASG Pinky Anand. “There is an urgent need to increase the number of women judges. The percentage is very low in most High Courts”, it said.
Justice Khehar raised peals of laughter in a jam-packed courtroom when he said "No...no...no don't say that. We are always looking for a woman judge". The judge was trying to pacify a large number of female lawyers who were complaining of "gender discrimination"
The SCWLA members - Senior Lawyer Mahalakshmi Pavani and Advocate Prerna Kumari - said while women participation is on the rise in every sector, it was not the same in judgeship and therefore, it was high time meritorious women advocates too, are considered on a par with males for judgeship.
"We would first like to know what the ratio of female advocates to male advocates is. That is very important. The ratio of female judges to male judges must be in the same ratio," said Justice Khehar. His remark came when Pavani said "look at the numbers of women lawyers. There are just 62 women judges compared to 611 male judges (in high courts) in the entire country".
The women lawyers then told the court that would not be a fair criteria. "Please do not compare the number of women lawyers at bar and juxtapose it with the ratio of female and male judges. Women were allowed to practise in court only in 1922. Women face a lot of problems in practising in court. Despite that, they are coming out in large numbers to practice," said Pavani.
"It is submitted that keeping the Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 15(3) of the Constitution Of "India is a signatory to Conventions on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979, which envisaged removal of obstacles of women's public participation in all spheres of public and private lives," said the petition submitted by the SCWLA said.
India (prohibition of gender discrimination), it is respectfully submitted that the higher judiciary should have adequate representation of women judges after giving due weightage on their merit," it said.
Read the Suggestions of Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association in the NJAC Case.