Cornelia Sorabji was the first female lawyer in India, a woman who broke many stereotypes. She was also the first Indian national to study abroad, the first woman to graduate from Bombay University as well as the first to study Law at Oxford University. Cornelia did what no women dreamed of doing at her time as she went on to break all the records when she became the first female Indian to practice law in India and Britain.
She was the first woman to graduate from Bombay University as well as being the first to study Law at Oxford University.
In November 1866 in Nasik, Cornelia was born in a wealthy Parsi family. Her father was a missionary man and her mother was well-known for her contributions to social work. Her career was influenced and inspired by her parents. Cornelia and her five siblings spent their childhood in Belgium. Her journey started with her being home-schooled.
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Her journey to Oxford
After completing her schooling she went on to take up literature and completed a five-year course in a year, from Deccan College, Poona. Even after topping her exams, she wasn’t offered a scholarship as she was a woman. Her path to going to Oxford was full of difficulties. When she wasn’t offered scholarship some prominent English women in Poona and Bombay raised funds to send her to Oxford. Finally, in 1889 she joined the Somerville College.
Pursuing her dream
At Oxford, she went on to study Law. In 1892 Cornelia became the first woman to pass the Bachelor of Civil Laws (BCL) exam. Although the college refused to provide her with the degree. As at that time no woman was allowed to register and practice law. After she returned to India she started doing social and advisory works for the ‘Purdahnashins’ as they were prohibited to communicate with the outer world. She also filed petitions on their behalf.
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Chasing her ambitions was not easy, but she stayed faithful to her passion and desire to pursue law and to break the stereotypes and finally achieved it. From 1902 to 1922, she assisted over 600 women and minor girls across India. When 1920 the London Bar allowed women to practice law Cornelia travelled to England to get her degree. Then she became a barrister at the High Court in Calcutta and became the first woman to practice law.
Chasing her ambitions was not easy but she stayed faithful to her passion and desire to pursue law and to break the stereotypes.
Later on, she went on to write a book about her experiences named Between the Twilights. In 2012, a bronze statue of her was unveiled in Lincoln’s Inn, High Court Complex in London as a mark of respect. A Google doodle was also created to celebrate her 151 birthday on November 15, 2017. In 1929 Cornelia retired and settled in London. Her legacy is one with valour, determination and not giving up. She is one of the women who taught us how to achieve the impossible.
Shreya is an intern with SheThePeople.TV