Was it not more than a trifle ironic that on the very day the media hailed the women “toppers” at the National Law School University in Bangalore, reports should also appear that the higher judiciary was top-heavy the other way around – only 10 per cent of High Court judges were women. Were it not for the risk of being flayed for “contempt of court” (a concept far from well-codified) there would be many who would wonder how their Lordships would respond if similarly male-favouring statistics were presented for other spheres of public life.
Even without ever-disparaging comparisons the figures present a dismal scenario, only 61 women on the bench in 24 High Courts while there are 534 men. Even conceding that the picture could be somewhat distorted because there are huge judicial vacancies – for which the government and their Lordships are engaged in a veritable slanging match – there is no reason to assume that a sizeable section of the 474 vacancies would be filled by “Miladies”. For, had a gender-bias not become so entrenched in the system of judicial appointments the imbalance would not have been so pronounced.
At present eight High Courts do not boast a single woman judge: in terms of comparative figures Sikkim takes top honours with a 50-50 split in the High Court bench, while the Delhi High Court has 10 women judges, but still less than 30 per cent.
The aim of drawing attention to the glaring disparity is not to exacerbate the controversy over whether the collegium system of appointments “scores” over a National Judicial Appointments Commission, or to stoke fires over the Memorandum of Procedure, but merely to remind the judiciary that it must seek to remedy itself before pontificating.
At every level of governance it is claimed that a more equitable sex-ratio is critical to sensitive administration: can the judiciary profess to be any better? With 50 per cent of the population being female, and as recent events confirm women are now fighting for their rights as never before, the implications of the imbalance can have an adverse fall out. It can be nobody&’s case that women will only get “justice” from females on the bench Rs indeed in such matters the judiciary has performed exceedingly well Rs but perceptions do matter.
As it is the judiciary is often criticised for not being adequately “inclusive”, a perceived gender bias would be a cause for embarrassment and perhaps discomfort too. The top judges in the land must make conscious efforts to identify and nurture talented women, ensure that they get fair treatment in matters of appointments and postings. Competence must be rewarded, not the tokenism the ‘sarkar’ thrives upon.