Begin typing your search above and press return to search.
Columns

The Man Behind Women's Entry Into Legal Profession In India - A Tribute

The Man Behind Womens Entry Into Legal Profession In India - A Tribute
x

28th April every year, is celebrated as Lawyers Day in Odisha in the memory of its most revered and beloved freedom fighter and leader of the bar, Shri Madhushudhan Das. The great Shri Madhusudhan Das who was fondly called as Madhu babu was born on 28.04.1848. Madhu Babu was a great leader and had many first's to his name. He was the first person in Odisha to hold a graduate degree...

28th April every year, is celebrated as Lawyers Day in Odisha in the memory of its most revered and beloved freedom fighter and leader of the bar, Shri Madhushudhan Das. The great Shri Madhusudhan Das who was fondly called as Madhu babu was born on 28.04.1848. Madhu Babu was a great leader and had many first's to his name. He was the first person in Odisha to hold a graduate degree from L.M.S.College, Bhowanipore, the first person to have the B.L and M.A degrees in Odisha, the first Odia advocate, the first Odia to become a member of both the Legislative Council and the Central Legislative Assembly of India, and also the first Odia to set sail overseas. Shri Madhusudhan Das was a visionary and had a deep insight when he first demanded the bifurcation of the Odisha Province from the Bihar province on linguistic basis. It was due to his efforts and perseverance that Odisha became the first Indian State to be reorganised on linguistic basis on 1 April, 1936 in pre-independence India. Shri Madhusudhan Das's vigour was so strong that when initially his demands were not met, he had the strength to walk away and dissociate himself from the Indian National Congress. The Government later had to concede to the storm of movement created by the great leader and therefore, the Odisha State was bifurcated. Madhu Babu was always admired as a great Legislator and Journalist and not only did he make a name for himself in the field of law but also had a successful practice. Unlike many in his profession, Madhu Babu believed in serving the Nation and uplifting the masses, and therefore, he contributed by helping the less privileged. Apart from his contributions to the general welfare of the Nation, Madhu Babu also parallelly founded the Orissa Art Ware Works in 1897 and with his support, the Filigiri/Tarakashi work of gold and silver ornaments achieved commendable feet. Further, Madhu Babu also found the Utkal Tannery in 1905, a factory producing shoes and other leather products, and hence, this way he adopted a diversified approach in the development of the State of Odisha. Owing to his selfless work and unparalleled dedication for the State, he was conferred the title of 'Utkala Gouraba', i.e. the Pride of Odisha, and Kulabruddha, i.e. The Grand Old Man.

Further, the Legend as he was, Madhu Babu not only thought of short-term solutions to the great problems of the State of Odisha but paved the path for reform on which the people of Odisha still continue to walk. Be it the establishment of the first library in Cuttack, Odisha or his efforts for the setting up of the first Girl's high school in Odisha, or his constant quest for educational reforms, or the founding of the Utkal Sammilani, an Indian and Cultural organisation, Madhu Babu believed in making Odisha a self -sufficient State having its own identity and recognition.

The reason today we fondly remember Shri Madhusudhan Das and celebrate his birthday as Lawyer's Day is because of his exceptional contribution to the field of law, especially towards the women's entry into the legal profession in India. Despite being a propelling force and guiding the way for women legal practitioners in the Country his contribution has remained shrouded in time. Today when we think of women breaking the glass ceiling in the legal profession, the first few names that come to our mind are those of Cornelia Sorbajee, Regina Guha, the first female judge Anna Chandy, the first Jugde of the Supreme Court- Justice Fatima Beevi, the first Indian woman Barrister Mithan Jamshed Lam, First Woman Additional Solicitor General of India Indira Jaising among others. However, the first female who crossed the barrier and became the first Indian Legal Practitioner to practice in India was Sudhanshu Bala Hazra, who was supported by her adoptive Father, Shri Madhusudhan Das. That despite being a pillar in the movement that brought women to the forefront of the legal profession the name that is most often missed out is that of the Great Shri Madhusudhan Das, the man because of whom an amendment was brought in the Legal Practitioner's Act, 1923 thereby, allowing the women the opportunity to enter the Court of Law, a struggle unimaginable in 2022. In his daughter Sudhanshu Bala's own words written in her Memoir titled, 'A woman at Law', she talks about how she was ' destined to play a humble part in breaking the barrier that prevented women from entering into the legal field of law.' She credits her Adoptive Father, Shri Madhusudhan Das for 'achieving this great task for which he earned the everlasting gratitude of Indian women.' Sudhanshu Bala Hazra, the woman whose entry into the legal profession opened many doors for women advocates in the Country writes, 'the conquest of these fields by women out of monopoly of men has been a matter of strenuous strife and long-lasting struggle throughout the world.' Behind the presence of all women lawyer's in the Country today we owe a great deal to a Man who envisioned a woman standing and fighting for justice in the Courts of India.

Sudhanshubala Hazra faced many stumbling blocks throughout her career, and it is through her journey today that the Courts of Law witness many finest women Advocates relentlessly pursuing the cause of Justice. At the beginning, she sought permission from the University of Calcutta to appear for the preliminary law exam and it was only after some persuasion and great deal of reluctance on the part of the University, that the permission was finally granted. Almost at the end of her graduation when she was just about to realize her dream of being an Advocate, the University decided to put her through a test to analyze and examine that whether she really had the passion or capability to become a lawyer. Sudhanshubala kept proving herself and hence, slowly and steadily led her way to become the first women advocate to practice in India.

A Struggle Within A Struggle

However, despite finally attaining a Bachelor's degree in Law from the University of Calcutta, Sudhanshubala did not have a right to practice in the Courts of Law, and therefore, when she applied to be enrolled as a pleader at the Patna District Court, her application was forwarded to the High Court of Patna. After much deliberation, the full judge bench of the High Court of Patna (Reported in L.L.R., Patna, Vol. I, page 101), delivering three separate judgments held that a woman was not entitled to a certificate under section 7 of the Legal Practitioners Act , notwithstanding the provisions of the General Clauses Act of 1868 and 1897 where the definition of a person includes both man and a woman. Section 2 (48) of the General Clauses Act 1897 defines person to include, 'any company or association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not'. This decision of the High Court of Patna was based on the previous decision of High Court of Calcutta in Regina Guha ('the Persons Case') where the Court in 1916 had held that persons in the legal profession are confined only to the male sex. After receiving such a decision that too from a full judge bench brought down the hopes of a young woman looking to appear before the Courts. It was then that her father, Shri Madhusudhan encouraged her to take the next step and seek the leave to appeal before the judicial committee of the Privy Council in England. This leave to appeal to the Privy Council was dismissed vide order dated 12.04.1922 by the High Court of Patna. The next hurdle now was to approach the Privy Council in the far land of England. It was at this time that an eminent Barrister Mr. Hasan Imam wrote to Mr. Dube, practicing in England seeking his help in filing the special leave to appeal. That the journey from Odisha to England was a hard travel, however, the Petition was heard by the Privy Council on 21.11.1922 much to the relief of Madhusudhan Das and his daughter. They felt that they were a step closer to success when an order was passed granting the leave to appeal by the Right Lord Buckmaster, Right Lord Fillimore, Right Lord Mr. Amir Ali, Right Lord Salvensen, subject to the deposit of a whooping sum of 400 Pounds, which is approximately 19,000 Pounds today, a sum equivalent to almost Rs.19 Lakhs. Listening to the amount to be deposited, Sudhanshubala saw her dreams falling apart as anxiety and uncertainty gripped her. It was again Madhu Babu who stepped in with his willingness to fight this battle and bringing equality to the legal fraternity by writing a letter to Sir William Duke and praying for either waiving off the deposit amount of €400 or reducing it by stating the importance of women lawyers in the country. On the basis of such a pursuasive letter by the eminent lawyer and freedom fighter Shri Madhusudan Das, and keeping in mind the importance of the matter, the case of Sudhanshubala was converted from a private litigation to a matter of public interest titled 'Indian Lady's Appeal Against Patna Decision' and deposit amount of €400 was waived off.

However, while the matter was pending before the Privy Council, Madhu Babu, a great visionary as he was, found another man like him in Advocate and social reformer Shri Hari Singh Gour, who was a member of the Central Legislative Assembly. The two leaders at the right opportunity struck the iron rod while it was still hot and Shri Gour moved a resolution without prior notice to the assembly to remove the discrimination against women and amend the Legal Practitioners Act to ensure their presence in the Legal Field. Shri Gour highlighted the role of women and reminded the assembly of the support that the women had given throughout history. Shri Gour received support from some other members of the house, however due to some procedural issues and assurances of the house, the amendment proposed was withdrawn. The very next day, Shailabala Das met the Home Member, Sir William Vincet, and urged him to introduce a bill in the Assembly to amend the Legal Practitioner's Act and it was in pursuance of this that Shri Madhusudhan Das prepared a memorial to be addressed to His Excellency the Viceroy. Sudhanshubala Hazra presented this Memorial which contained many interesting grounds demanding an amendment in the Act including the right of 'educated ladies to earn money as practicing lawyers', thus, recognizing their economic rights besides other rights. On the 2nd February 1923, the bill was introduced in the Assembly and it was because of the combined efforts of the all the visionaries along with the right legal and legislative approach that finally, the Legal Practitioners (Women) Act of 1923 was passed which received the assent of the Governor General on 2nd April 1923, which read that, 'no woman shall, by reason only of her sex, be disqualified from being admitted or enrolled as a legal practitioner or from practising as such.' Right after this progressive and breakthrough Amendment, Sudhanshubala Hazra was now free to live her dream and had the rare privilege of practising under her father and made her first appearance before the High Court of Patna on 22nd January 1924.

The contributions and the role played by Shri Madhusudhan Das must not be forgotten and the path that he lit up for all the women in the country must be acknowledged. Even though Sudhanshubala Hazra nurtured a dream of becoming an advocate, it was the constant effort of her father, Madhu Babu that helped her realise her dream. He will always be an inspiration for generations to come for his role in bringing women to the mainstream of legal profession.

In fact on the occasion of Madhubabu's 1st Death Anniversary Mr. E.S.Hoernle, the then Commissioner of Orissa Division rightly paid tribute in the following words which resonate even till today. In his words-

"Madhusudhan earned much appreciation and fame for his personal greatness, high qualities, burning patriotism, incessant efforts in the service of the people, noble sacrifices and great achievements. Not one of the least of his great work is the opening vocation of law to Indian women. I have no doubt that the present and future women advocates of India shall always remember him not only with gratitude, but also with deep respect. To him they owe their careers, to his memory they owe grateful remembrance. May his memory last forever. May his soul rest in peace.!"

Hence this humble tribute to the great man who remained in the oblivion but won the battle for Indian women's legal practitioners.

The authors are Advocates in the Supreme Court of India. Views are personal

Next Story