first_imgNews Updates’Finding Our Place In The Sun’: Telangana CJ Hima Kohli, Justice Anu Sivaraman Reflect on Sexual Harassment, Maternity Leave, And More In A Women’s day Event LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK10 March 2021 7:19 AMShare This – xSpeaking at a virtual event organised to mark International Women’s Day, Chief Justice Hima Kohli of the Telangana High Court recounted an experience from her own time at the Bar, where a client embroiled in a tenancy dispute could not afford her fee, but she continued representing the client. The client (who was a seamstress) came up to Chief Justice Kohli, offering to starch her…Your free access to Live Law has expiredTo read the article, get a premium account.Your Subscription Supports Independent JournalismSubscription starts from ₹ 599+GST (For 6 Months)View PlansPremium account gives you:Unlimited access to Live Law Archives, Weekly/Monthly Digest, Exclusive Notifications, Comments.Reading experience of Ad Free Version, Petition Copies, Judgement/Order Copies.Subscribe NowAlready a subscriber?LoginSpeaking at a virtual event organised to mark International Women’s Day, Chief Justice Hima Kohli of the Telangana High Court recounted an experience from her own time at the Bar, where a client embroiled in a tenancy dispute could not afford her fee, but she continued representing the client. The client (who was a seamstress) came up to Chief Justice Kohli, offering to starch her white saris and “return the courtesy”, the Judge narrated, her voice breaking. “The satisfaction that one gets in being able to do something worthy, to make a difference in one’s life, that’s what one thrives on…”, she added. Crediting the Bench for helping her gain a different perspective of what could be done for society, the Judge spoke of the satisfaction one could derive from achieving something worthwhile. The Judge then expanded on this theme and opined that the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile probably resonated with lawyers as well. Chief Justice Kohli, along with Justice Anu Sivaraman of the Kerala High Court, and Advocate Geeta Rameseshan of the Madras High Court were panellists at an event organised by the Kerala State Unit of the Indian Law Institute on Monday on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The event was organised in conjunction with the Kerala Federation of Women Lawyers. Chief Justice Kohli delivered the women’s day message, which was followed by a discussion among Chief Justice Kohli, Justice Sivaraman and Advocate Rameseshan on challenges facing women in the legal profession. In her opening remarks, Chief Justice Kohli’s observed that the United Nations had declared the theme for this year’s Women’s Day to be ‘Choose to Challenge’. She then remarked that women have always had challenges thrown at them, wherever they were. There would have to be challenges before triumphs, she continued. Expounding upon this theme, she explained that women juggled multiple roles as mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, members of the family and others. It was these women who in turn went out into the world into to face the challenges of the legal profession. Chief Justice Kohli, Justice Sivaraman, and Advocate Geeta Rameseshan, fielded questions from the moderator on issues ranging from their beginnings in the profession, perceptions around some areas of law not being suited to women, how there could be systemic changes within the legal profession to make it more amenable to the mentorship of young female practitioners, allow for maternity leaves, and importantly, reinforce structures and safe spaces for the reporting of cases of sexual harassment. On Sexual Harassment and the Legal Profession The panellists agreed that much more needed to be done when it came to addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the profession. “Sexual harassment is a problem. It is there in the profession, we cannot deny it. It is there among lawyers. There can be no denial of the fact that it is a problem and I don’t think anybody wants to deny that, Advocate Rameseshan said Justice Sivaraman spoke of how despite systems in place after the Vishaka judgment and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, there was still reluctance to present complaints. Even with the system, how confident is the woman to approach the system? How competent is the system to actually deal with the issue? This is an area where we have to make the woman confident enough to come to us and to see that we are competent to solve?, Justice Sivaraman posited. Drawing from her experiences as head of the Sexual Harassment Committee at the Delhi High Court, Chief Justice Kohli said that very few people actually knew which forum needed to be approached when they were faced with sexual harassment. She narrated that complaints between lawyers, the State Bar Council was the forum and where the harassment was between employees of the High Court, the High Court Committee would work. Complaints as between lawyers and clerks went up before a separate body after which there was a first forum, an appellate forum, and ultimately the State Bar Council at the appeal stages. “Those levels were not even manned in many states, the bar councils had not set up these committees, unfortunately!” Chief Justice Kohli remarked. Speaking from two instances where the Committee at the High Court had to step in and successfully ensured the complainants stood firm and stuck to their stances, she said “It’s very important for the Committee to be strong, and to be able to know where the problem is and how to deal with that by passing interim orders and keeping your control throughout the entire process of the complaint until it attains finality”, Chief Justice Kohli underscored. Advocate Rameseshan added that where the complaints were between lawyers, women would hesitate approaching the Bar Councils and would instead go to the police. There they could face threats by lawyers’ groups, and they might even be afraid of becoming unpopular and no other office willing to take her on, the lawyer explained. “A great vested interest structure is very much there”, Advocate Rameseshan pointed out. On Maternity, Family and Childcare, and Rates of Attrition among Female Lawyers Chief Justice Kohli recalled that the rates of dropping out between the 80s and the 90s were much higher than they are presently. At the time, women were often forced to make a choice between continuing on in practice and marriage, as parents believed that if a woman continued in practice, she would never get an ideal match. While women who married lawyers or belonged to families of lawyers had husbands, fathers, or brothers to carry the reins of law practice when she helped set up a family, and had a running practice to fall back on. On the other hand, standalone practitioners did not and were forced to drop out, she pointed out. Remarking that the situation has changed drastically now, with the advent of law firms, Chief Justice Kohli noted that women were more focussed on merging the two – continuing practice while getting married. “Of course, the biological clock is ticking and the woman also knows that if she wants to marry and set up a family, there are timelines attached to it. But that’s not a deterrent (now).”, Chief Justice Kohli observed. Justice Sivaraman expressed that childcare and maternity were the most challenging for a working woman and caused the most disruption to a practising woman lawyer. The issue of maternity leaves and perceptions around it need to be addressed, Justice Sivaraman emphasized. “I have also noticed that once you take a break and the break goes on long enough, even when you come back, you are not really taken as seriously as a lawyer who stayed in the profession…I think it is up to us to find out how this issue of child care can be addressed,” she said. Advocate Rameseshan stated that the individualistic nature of the profession meant that a senior in lawyer would not be able to allow a complete break to his female subordinate, however empathetic they were. In this context, she discussed avenues of strengthening external child care systems and support systems for working mothers. On Mentorship The panellists highlighted the of the need to form support structures within the legal profession to serve as safe spaces for women to interact, network, and get support from other members of the Bar. Revealing the at the subject of mentorship for women practitioners of law was a subject very close to her heart, Chief Justice Kohli spoke of her experiences in forming the Women in Law and Litigation collective in Delhi. “It is very important to have that bulwark available for women for being able to interact with each other, to lend your strengths and borrow someone else’s weaknesses and make them into strengths”, she said. While Justice Anu Sivaraman of the High Court emphasized that such a system always existed informally at the Kerala High Court, Advocate Geeta Rameseshan of the Madras High Court underscored the importance of formalising any informal support structure in order to strengthen it. On perceptions of some areas of law being more suited to women, sensitivity among judges and early challenges they faced On perceptions of some laws not being suited to women, Justice Anu Sivaraman observed that they remained as perceptions, stereotypes encountered at every stage in life. While agreeing that systemic changes were necessary for these perceptions to disappear, she emphasized that proving one’s competence in one’s areas of practice was the way to dispel these notions. Explaining that she nurtured an interest in service laws, as against the prevalent belief that family laws were more suited to women, she stated that female pioneers in law broke stereotypes by proving their competence. She added, “Systemic changes are required, yes, but it is the will to work our way, to break our paths that is required” Chief Justice Kohli spoke about her own experiences as a woman starting out in the legal profession, and said that she mostly faced challenges from those outside her family. Narrating that she came from a family without a background in law, Chief Justice Kohli said that she would not have entered into the legal profession but for her mother’s support. Thereafter, her challenges came from outside the family, Chief Justice Kohli emphasized. However, senior lawyers who were generous with their time, and kind enough to give opportunities, afforded her opportunities to progress. Advocate Geeta Rameseshan spoke about how offices of leading lawyers, ‘the doyens’, were often unwilling to take in female juniors. “Now the position has reversed, more and more offices are seeking women juniors…they are perceived as hardworking,” she said. Talking of her personal experience, she narrated that she had been drawn to criminal laws as well as family laws, and that her break into practice in these areas came through the legal aid movement. When queried about the need to increase the number of women at the top echelons of the judiciary, the panel agreed that the same needed to be done. They noted, however, that often times male colleagues on the bench reacted with equal if not more sensitivity on issues concerning women. Chief Justice Hima Kohli noted that sometimes women on the bench could be more conservative vis-à-vis the male. The Chief Justice opined that male judges who reacted with such sensitivity were probably a product of an upbringing that encouraged such sensitivity on their part. “Speaking for myself, I found that the sensitivity of my bench partners who are males on issues relating to women was surprisingly far more than I would have expected my own self or a woman colleague on the bench to have…For a man to take that stance with equal or if not more sensitivity was a pleasant surprise” On the impact of the pandemic The panellists agreed with the proposition that the virtual court system helped women, especially those with families. Women, particularly without chambers, offices, or means of commute had the opportunity to log in and log out of courts with the limited technology at hand, and continue practice. Women were also able to explore other areas of practice such as mediation thanks to the flexibility of virtual hearings, Chief Justice Kohli narrated, referring to the Delhi High Court’s virtual mediation system. In her concluding remarks, Justice Sivaraman touched upon the work of numerous women in the magistracy and the subordinate courts, whose numbers had increased exponentially. “Their good work and the dedication we ought not forget”, she emphasized. After closing remarks by the moderator, Advocate Ninni Susan Thomas, and a vote of thanks from Advocate Krishna, the event drew to a closeSubscribe to LiveLaw, enjoy Ad free version and other unlimited features, just INR 599 Click here to Subscribe. All payment options available.loading….Next Storylast_img read more