Indian female lawyers have been trailblazers for the upcoming generations, fighting stereotypes that society threw at them to build a fair and just society. Though the representation of women in the legal field still ranks low, India is sure inching towards change. Last month, the country witnessed three women in a record first taking oath as Supreme Court judges.
Among them is BV Nagarathna, poised to become India’s first woman Chief Justice in 2027. Know about her here. As we embrace greater inclusion in the judiciary than before, hopes abound for diversity to bring better legal reform and a safer society that benefits all, particularly women who have been at the socially oppressed end of the ladder.
Here is a list of inspiring female lawyers from across the country who have contributed massively to improving the judicial system of the country, breaking through the glass ceiling and ignoring voices that told them the black cloak wasn’t for them.
1. Cornelia Sorabji
Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman to practice law in India. She was the only lawyer among pioneers who worked long and hard to breach the glass ceiling for women in courtrooms across the country. She was well known for her involvement in many social reform activities. Sorabji played an active role in the Bengal branch of the National Council for Women in India, The Federation of University Women, and the Bengal League of Social Service. In 1907, she was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind Gold medal by the Indian Government for her extensive social work. Sorabji, not only had a major influence on the abolition of Sati and Child marriages but also gave up her practice to work for social reforms entirely in 1929.
2. Mithan Jamshed Lam
Mithan Jamshed Lam was the first woman barrister and the first woman lawyer in the Bombay High Court. She was a member of the All-India Women’s Conference and served as its President in 1961–62. She was also awarded the third highest civilian honor of the Padma Bhushan, in 1962, for her contributions to society.
3. Violet Alva
Violet Alva was the first female lawyer to appear before a High Court. She was also a journalist and the first woman to preside over Rajya Sabha. In 1944 she started a women’s magazine called Indian Women. Additionally, Alva was also the first woman to be elected to the Standing Committee of the All India Newspaper Editors Conference in 1952. Violet Alva was also actively associated with a wide spectrum of social organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Business and Professional Women’s Association, and the International Federation of Women Lawyers.
4. Sheila Didi
Sheila Didi was one of the first female lawyers of Chandigarh. She was known for her feminism and contributions to women’s empowerment. She was also the president of Punjab Sthri Sabha and devoted her life to improving the underprivileged. She was one of the nominees of the worldwide campaign for 1,000 women for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
5. Ananda Bai
Ananda Bai became the lone female law graduate within the Madras Presidency and enrolled within the Supreme Court after a rigorous apprenticeship under VV Srinivasa Iyengar in 1929. Bai’s original career path, however, didn’t involve becoming a lawyer. It was only after being rejected within the government services that Bai considered entering the chambers of law.
6. Rebecca John
Rebecca John joined the legal profession in 1990 when there were hardly any female lawyers in the criminal field. She was the primary senior women lawyer to become a senior advocate in the legal code and was designated as Senior Advocate in 2013 by the Supreme Court. She has a rigorous practice in the apex court, appellate, and trial courts in criminal law.
7. Indira Jaising
Indira Jaising is a noted personality for her legal activism within the sphere of human rights. She founded Lawyers Collective, a person’s rights organization, alongside her husband Anand Grover in 1981. She was also the first woman to be appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India in 2009. She argued for the rights of homeless dwellers of Mumbai, fought environmental causes, voiced against extra-judicial killings in Manipur, and is widely counted among the best lawyers of India.
8. Karuna Nundy
Karuna Nundy is a practicing Supreme Court lawyer, who has highly contributed to the gender justice movement in India. Apart from bringing righteous justice to the people in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, she was also involved in drafting the criminal law amendment bill in 2013. Know her thoughts on feminism and women’s rights here.
9. Menaka Guruswamy
Menaka Guruswamy has been an active contributor to the Right to Education Act, directing that all private schools must acknowledge children at a disadvantage. She was also one of the lawyers leading the fight to scrap Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality.
10. Meenakshi Arora
Meenakshi Arora is a practicing senior counsel at the Supreme Court of India and has a huge share of contribution to safeguarding the rights of women. She has been an important voice of authority in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013, which defends working women’s rights.
11. Vrinda Grover
Vrinda Grover is a lawyer, researcher, human rights, and women’s rights activist. She has actively fought many domestic violence cases and has been involved in the drafting of the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act 2012, the Criminal Law Amendment of 2013, and the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010. Additionally, she is one of the lawyers that has appeared in numerous landmark human rights cases, representing victims and survivors of communal massacres, extrajudicial killings, custodial torture, sexual minorities, trade unions, and political activists.
12. Mishi Choudhary
Mishi Choudhary is the only lawyer to appear in the Indian as well as US Supreme Courts, that too during the same term. She established Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) in India to protect the human rights and benefits of Internet users and free software developers. She is considered one of the best technology lawyers in India.
13. Meenakshi Lekhi
Meenakshi Lekhi is a prominent lawyer and a national spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has played an integral part in drafting the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill and the Women’s Reservation Bill, both of which hold the empowerment of women as a priority.
14. Flavia Agnes
Flavia Agnes is a practicing lawyer at Mumbai High Court and is a notable name in the field of battles against domestic violence. She is the founder of MAJLIS, a legal-cultural resource center supporting survivors of domestic and social abuse. Her center has also played a major role in definitive triple talaq cases, arguing for the rights of Muslim women.
15. Pinky Anand
Pinky Anand in 2014 was appointed the Additional Solicitor General of India in the Supreme Court, only the second woman to assume the role after Indira Jaising. She served as chairperson of organizations like the National Committee Law and ASSOCHAM Ladies League. She has previously been a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
16. Sudha Bharadwaj
Sudha Bharadwaj is an activist and lawyer known for having actively contributed to Niyogi’s Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha in 1986. She raised her voice audaciously for Dalit and tribal rights, the right to the land, education, health, and security for victimized people, and fights for social and community issues. She has been in prison since 2018 in connection to the Elgar Parishad case. Read more.
17. Zia Mody
Zia Mody is an Indian corporate lawyer, considered one of the best in the fields of corporate merger and acquisition law, securities law, private equity, and project finance. She started her practice in Mumbai in 1984 with AZB & Partners, one of India’s largest law firms, where she served as the managing partner. Mody is additionally a member of the Securities and Exchange Board of India’s committee on Mutual Funds and the Capital Market Committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Image: Zia Mody, Karuna Nundy and Indira Jaising