An Open Letter To All The Female Law Students In India Today!
I see you adorned in a black and white robe! You are already an epitome of empowered women to those in your inner circle. But if you have been around the corridors in the court, you know all too well, the sordid state of affairs for women in the legal profession, right from the lower courts, upto the Supreme Court.
Around you, people may think that you are one strong, bold woman, who knows her mind and knows how to speak it too. And yet when you see the legal profession closely, the disparities, the inequalities, and the frustrations cannot escape you. Being a 'lawyer', how do you make sense of the gap between the perception of empowerment and the actual reality on ground, where much needs to change and hopefully in our lifetime.
While there are some shining examples of leading ladies in the Court and now on the Supreme Court bench, the majority of courts in India do not even care to have a proper restroom for women, let alone any dignity to spare. From proving oneself tough enough to survive, to fighting the characterization of 'loose women' because you keep long hours, your fight is still an important chapter in the story of women's emancipation in India.
While women are making their mark in every possible profession, there is some beauty when women choose to opt for professions which have traditionally been male bastions – such as law and politics. These are professions that require loudmouths, strong personalities and innately strong survival skills. So no wonder, women are still found few and far in between but when they stick it out, girl do they change the system!
Right from Ms. Indira Jaising who has been at the forefront of women rights issues all her life, to Ms. Indu Malhotra who is donning her role on the bench with as much grace as she did at the bar, to Ms. Rebecca John, Kamini Jaiswal, Ms. Malvika Rajkotia, Ms. Vrinda Grover, Ms. Zia Modi amongst others, there is inspiration around. Yet it is your journey which you will have to travel with much difficulties and very less support.
Today on women's day, I want to tell you three things which my mentor told me once.
- 1)Stickability: The ability to stick it out. Statistics suggest that while female students are equal in numbers at the stage of law schools admissions, their number constantly dwindle as they rise the ladder of the legal profession. There are still very few women who have made partners in the top firms, or who have been alleviated as senior advocates and judges. Legal profession by its very nature requires patience and a commitment of atleast a decade before your practice can pick up. Unlike the Bollywood industry, fame, money and good work may not come to us until in our 30s. So while the popular media, which is full of inspiring tales of our heroines, we got to be realistic, see our profession for its own strengths and weaknesses and pace ourselves accordingly.
So don't be in a hurry, let go of the constant pressure that comes with 'oh but my biological clock is ticking' and stick it out.
- 2)Be an Iron Lady : Imagine an iron cloak around you, such that nothing should pierce across it. The profession will throw all kinds of challenges, people will say all kind of mean things, chances are that you will be a victim of unsolicited and inappropriate advances – yes even you as a lawyer! But what affects you should be controlled by you. Don't let anyone and everyone be part of your inner circle or affect you emotionally. Don't take everyone's words seriously. Don't let society tell you what your true value is. Go your own way, at your own speed and let the world talk.
- 3)Show Up : I can't stress this enough. When we are students at law school, sometimes all we need to do is show up to our classes, even when the professors may not be the most interesting ones. In profession, especially in the early years, what matters a great deal is showing up – regularly in courts, for meetings, and for events. In early years of practice, one often wonders why show up when you don't have matters, why show up when you don't understand it all in a world of so called 'intellectuals', why show up when the world looks like a really intimidating place and you have the option of doing something else altogether.
Show up my girl and see the battle change in your favour.
Perhaps, that time isn't far when Indu Bhan writes her second book on 'Legal Eagles' and finds enough women to feature in it. Being in the legal profession isn't enough – the question is are we thriving? If we are not, what walls are we faced with? And if we are, faced or backed with the walls, what best than to remember the iconic words of the legend – Harvey Specter who said "When you are backed against the wall, break the god damn thing down."
Here's hoping that not only will we all, as a generation of female lawyers break every possible ceiling but that we will do it, holding each other and uplifting each other along the way.
To all the men, sing along, sing loud, and together let's make an equal world. As Gloria Steinem said – "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist not to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."
Happy Women's Day!
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