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Safety of Female Advocates: A Rising Concern

Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women. Maya Angelou

She stood up for everyone but her death should never become a deterrence to any lady advocate determined enough to lead her way. The recent murder of the first female President of UP State Bar Council has become a germane issue of concern for each lady in the noble profession. No doubt advocacy requires one to keep his nose to the grindstone. But it demands an extra milestone for a woman to establish herself in this profession. All thanks to the environment that we ‘men’ have created in the last century. The greater contribution towards the disparity is from men where the past sighs patriarchy while these incidences reflect how far we have come.|

The Legal profession permitted the entry of lady Advocates after the passing of Legal Practitioners (Women) Act XIII, 1923 which abolished the Bar on women from practising Law. Indian women were granted to take up the Legal Profession and practice in the Court of Law. Though initially only a handful of women joined the Legal profession but with passage of time we now have sizable number of women Advocates.

Social Security
Manusmriti (3.56) says: It means, where a women is respected, the place becomes God’s abode, by God’s abode, we mean, divine qualities, good deeds, peace and harmony. However, if this is not done, then all the actions turn out to be fruitless.

When the book on law as old as existence of mankind demand the veneration of women, it becomes imperative for the law abiders establish the same in the society. The case of Darvesh Yadav is not the first time where a lady advocate was subjected to assault.

In 2014 advocate Ambika Das (since deceased) was assaulted by the police and the police refused to register a FIR of the incident in which she was assaulted by police and henchmen of an influential person on 04.04.2014 at Lajpat Nagar Police station when she had gone to serve a stay order in relation to some property dispute. The Hon’ble Court was gracious enough to take suo moto cognizance of the inaction of Delhi police after the same was widely reported in the newspapers. Ambika Das got no police protection and the case was vehemently opposed by the opposing government departments. The case came to an end on the untimely demise of Advocate Ambika Das in March 2017.[1]

In the year 2013 an incident of voyeurism was reported from Delhi High Court were women Advocates were filmed on mobile phone in the Ladies rest room. This incident was reported in the newspaper which provided an impetus for filing a PIL under Article 32 of Constitution of India before this Hon’ble Court namely Binu Tamta & Anr vs High Court of Delhi.[2]

In the year July, woman lawyer was sexually assaulted by a male senior lawyer in Saket Court, New Delhi. As reported, a case was registered under section 376 and 354 IPC. The case is pending adjudication in Saket Court, New Delhi.[3]

The social security of female advocates has thus become an important concern. Along the same lines, a PIL has been filed at the apex court by Ms. Indu Kaul which shows a bitter truth of the court enviorns in regards to female advocates.[4]

The PIL has raised the following issues before the court:
The safety in court premises, chamber blocks, bar libraries, bar offices, car parking has no security provision like deployment of police personnel at these places.

2. The safety of lady separate rest rooms for ladies at distanced locations in close proximity of chamber blocks need to be constructed.

3. There are combined chamber blocks for men and lady advocates, lady advocates fall easy prey to misbehaving male advocates including those who do not desist from consuming liquor inside the chambers and under the pretext of liquor loosely conduct themselves at public places like car parking, bar libraries and at times inside the bar offices.

4. Women by and large are still unsafe in this country post amendments in criminal law and as almost every day one finds reporting about incidents of rape, sexual assault, acid attack etc. The common psyche of men in general and male advocates in particular is a lady advocate working late hours and/or wearing modern dresses is an easy going person and often lewd comments are passed against her.

5. Lady advocates are found to be contesting elections in many bar associations and bar councils, the brutal murder of Darvesh Yadav in court chamber is a big deterrent for any lady advocate to dare to contest elections.

6. Sch incidents of rape, sexual assault, voyeurism, eve teasing reflects gender disparity even after nearly 100 years of entry of lady advocates who still maintain the rule of ‘sunrise to sunset practice’ as they still do not find it safe to work beyond court hours.

7. The women representation in the legal profession is abysmally low despite mushrooming law colleges all over the country as lady advocates still prefer corporate practice and law firms instead of litigations mainly due to lack of infrastructural facilities and security.

8. The young lady advocates who get into marriage and have to stay away from courts periodically when they are on family way, there is no social security measure introduced towards maternity benefits. In case of illness, indisposition, old age and her becoming indigent her situation is even worse for want of non practising allowance.

9. There is no retirement age in the profession a lady advocate becomes pitiable in her old age when her practice diminishes due to her health condition and her family still nourishes the impression that being an advocate she must be capable of earning her livelihood. Through social security measures there must be a provision for pension when she opts out of active practice.

10. Wide gender difference is found despite increased women participation due to the professional uncertainties. The requirement of legal professional coupled with societal expectations act as inherent barriers for women. “One has to invest at least 12 hours every day to survive in the field. Under these circumstances, a lady lawyer has to slog for long hours in their chambers so without adequate security facilities it is not possible.

11. If a lady advocate breaks the stereotype of being meek and that she can break the glass ceiling all circumstances start working against her such as hostility from male colleagues, insecurity in the court premises, lack of social security measures and family expectations. She has to fight it all alone.

12. The condition of lady advocates is vulnerable in all courts across the country. A lady advocate has to find her illness, old age, family conditions throughout her life as there is no social security measures in provided by the bar councils or bar associations.

Concluding Observation And Remedies
No doubt the Vishakha guidelines and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 provide provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace but the issues of working conditions and social security of lady advocates should be taken into consideration by the Apex Court and the Parliament as well. In today’s India, where we talk about ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, we also need to understand that it becomes an imperative of us to provide a secure and safe environment for women to prosper in the noble profession.

Note: The author is a 3rd Year student, B.A.LL.B; Law College Dehradun Faculty of Uttaranchal University.

[2] Writ Petition(C) No. 162 of 2013, Supreme Court of India

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