Raw deal for women, SCs/STs in judiciary


NEW DELHI: Women, like the backward classes, get a rough deal when it comes to appointment as high court and Supreme Court judges and are often denied the right to administer justice. Since the inception of the Supreme Court in 1950, only three women judges have adorned the Bench. Fathima Beevi was followed by Sujata V Manohar and now Ruma Pal, a sitting judge.

Women lawyers' demand for reasonable representation on the Bench remains a far cry. The issue arose during the recent Law Day function when Supreme Court Bar Association president R K Jain advocated the women's cause. ``This is not a very happy state of affairs'', Jain said addressing among others law minister Arun Jaitley and chief justice A S Anand. ``Serious efforts will have to be made to select talent from amongst the women lawyers and judicial officials for their appointment to the Supreme Court and high courts... At least 10 per cent women lawyers should be appointed to these posts in order to strengthen the movement for women empowerment.''

Jaitley contended that the government had little say in the appointments of judges but Justice Anand assured that henceforth women would get a fair chance to serve the judiciary.

No reservation has been made in judicial appointments as such high posts are governed by a Constitutional provision. Members of the scheduled castes and tribes seldom get a chance to be elevated to the Bench.

A Parliamentary committee said there were only 15 SC and five ST judges among the 481 high court judges in the country on May 1, 1998 and there was no judge from this particular social group in the Supreme Court (before the appointment of Justice K G Balakrishnan in July this year).

The committee says:``It is astonishing that there has been not only no representation for SCs and STs in the appointment of officials and staff of the Supreme Court but also no appointment rules have been finalised during the last 50 years.

It ventures to say:``Judges take oath that they (will) uphold the Constitution and the laws. But the Supreme Court and a few high courts by claiming power over the Constitution, practice untouchability and are disobeying the Constitution with regard to Articles 16 (4) and 16 (4(a)''.

Is the judiciary ``infected by ancient prejudices and dominated by notions of gradations in life?'' The report said the class prejudices of the judges did not allow full play of their intellectual honesty and integrity in their decisions. Their judgments very often betrayed a mind set more useful to the governing class.''

Is judiciary a ``super speciality service with merit as its bedrock?'' The reports says:``To argue that only those with merit have found a berth in the judiciary is specious. Such a notion presupposes that those drawn from the weaker sections do not have enough merit. There is no scientific basis for such a view which can only be held by an incorrigible bigot''.

The committee headed by a BJP MP and tribal leader Karva Munda says the judges from the elite group may find it their filial duty to defend a system established by their forefathers, even at the cost of truth and universal values, but it asks as to how can such judges claim to have a right to sit in judgment over the issue of the right of the backward classes?

The Vajpayee government, on the other hand, asserts that it has no intention to control the judiciary and is rather opposed to any such move.

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