On Tuesday morning, nine new judges administered the oath of office by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana taking up the Supreme Court strength from 24 to 33 and its female representation (since 2018) from 1 to 4. In the last four years, the Indian Supreme Court boasted of single female representation with Justice Indira Banerjee appointed in 2018.
In the apex court's history, of the total 247 judges appointed so far, there have been only eight women judges. With the current appointment of Justice Bela Trivedi, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B V Nagarathna, this number might further up to 11, hinting at a cognizable shift, yet not taking away from the gender disparity.
In her farewell address, Justice B V Nagarathna who retired as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka HC to be elevated as an SC judg, passed on a special message to women advocates in India.
"The message from this leaf in my book which I want women advocates to take note of is, that with access to the right opportunities, each one of you can achieve your dreams. I, therefore, urge each one of you to seek out these opportunities armed with faith in yourself and stride ahead to achieve all that you want to and also give back to society," she said as quoted by Live Law.
She is speculated to become India's first woman Chief Justice of India by 2027 breaking the long chain of male CJIs, however, though only for 36 days. According to the rule book, the current retirement age for a SC judge is 65 and Justice B V Nagarathna would be attaining that limit by October 2027.
According to the Supreme Court of India website, eight SC judges are due for retirement next year including Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, Justice Indira Banerjee and CJI Justice N.V. Ramana among others.
History of women in India's top judiciary
The country's highest court witnessed the appointment of its first female SC judge in 1989, 39 years after its establishment on 26th January 1950.
In 1989, Justice M Fathima Beevi from Kerala High Court became the first woman judge to be appointed to the apex court. Subsequently, Justice Sujatha Manohar (1994), Justice Ruma Pal (2000), Justice Gyan Sudha Misra (2010), Justice Ranjana Desai (2011), Justice R. Banumati (2014), Justice Indu Malhotra (2018) and Justice Indira Banerjee (2018) took charge.
In 2018, Justice Indu Malhotra made news for being the only senior female judge to be elevated directly from the Bar Council of India rather than being promoted from the High Court.
According to a report by The Wire published in 2018, the SC in the past has witnessed only two occasions when it has had two sitting women judges together, the first being Justices Misra and Desai and later Justices Desai and Banumathi. On most other occasions, the SC functioned with only one woman judge in its chambers.
Social media hoots for the welcoming change
Taking to the news, social media users welcomed the change expressing their elation over the appointment of three female SC judges.
A historic moment for gender representation!— P C Mohan (@PCMohanMP) August 31, 2021
Justices Hima Kohli, BV Nagarathna, and Bela M Trivedi — three women took oath as judges of the #SupremeCourtOfIndia.
Ms. Akanksha Kumari becomes the 1st woman mining engineer at @CoalIndiaHQ to work in an underground mine. pic.twitter.com/6qE6FteJyM
Karan Tripathi, a lawyer and researcher expressing his feelings over the appointment of Justice Hima Kohli in the apex court wrote, "I'm not crying, you are! HMJ Hima Kohli is the embodiment of the oath she took today to become a Supreme Court judge. I wanted to see this from the day I first entered her courtroom in the Delhi HC. I just can't, I'm beyond elated."
More on the new top women judges
Justice B V Nagarathna from Karnataka is the daughter of former Chief Justice of India ES Venkataramiah who served as a CJI in 1989. She served as a judge at the Karnataka High Court and later, CJI of Karnataka HC for nearly 13 years before being elevated to the position of a Supreme Court Judge.
Justice Hima Kohli is the former CJI of Telangana High Court. She took oath as an SC judge just two days before she was to retire as an HC judge after attainment of 60 years of age. An alumnus of Delhi University, she practiced law mostly in the Delhi High Court until 2021, when she was appointed as the first woman CJI of the Telangana High Court.
Justice Bela Trivedi has joined the Supreme Court from the Gujarat High Court and is currently the only SC judge to have come from the trial courts.