My first case
It was around this time (1929) when Mr Chandy was transferred to Kottayam as a Prosecuting Inspector. There was a rule that one had to practice in a district court for a year before enrolling at the High Court. So I who had moved to Kottayam with my husband, I enrolled in the district court of Kottayam and entered the field as a lawyer. I began my career as a junior to a leading Kottayam lawyer, Mr John Nidhiry. I was enrolled by the District and Sessions Judge, Sri Seetharama Iyer.
Aren’t you curious to know about my first case? It was an appeal case; a petition to change an ex-parte judgment was rejected by the Munsif’s Court. The lawyer representing the other side was Sri K K Phillip, the junior of another prominent lawyer in the Kottayam Bar, Sri Thelli Mathew. I studied all the details and legal aspects of the case thoroughly with the help of my senior. Lawyers reading this, please don’t laugh wondering what big legal issues might occur with this case! Though not many legal complications were involved in it, this case was very important for me. Therefore to firm up my arguments, I did cite one or two other judgments. This news somehow leaked to the press. I think it was the Manorama — but forgive me if I am wrong — and in the morning papers, in big block-okra-sized letters, it was printed — ‘Between Anna Chandy and K K Phillip’ — and the news of this case followed. When I saw it I was reminded of the notice that announced the wrestling-match between the famous wrestlers Vallaadan and Maiteen Kunhu. Whatever, that news hit the bull’s eye. Lawyers who were jobless but busy, witnesses, and others, eminent citizens who assembled to hear the woman lawyer argue — all of them filled the court.
The case was in the Bench of the Additional Judge Sri Sankaran Pandala. That was the biggest day in my life. I got up early that morning and prayed specially for my victory and offered special vows.
In between, let me say, there are some people who believe that these prayers and vows represent human weakness. They may argue that they are fruitless. And when they hear of a woman lawyer’s prayers and vows, they are sure to laugh, I know. But I can say quite firmly that prayers and vows have been they were the most fruitful instruments I relied upon during life’s problems and in my career as lawyer and judge. I believe that it is this that helped me to adhere to justice and ethics in my judgments as a Judge. Prayer and vows helped me to find the straight path when I sat down to write the judgment after hearing the case; to find enough materials to clear even the slightest doubt I felt; to write confidently.
But my husband who was a police officer and someone much more knowledgeable about the ways of the world, my husband had scant belief in vows and offerings. When I won cases as a lawyer and was praised for my judgments as a Judge, I would say that it was all because of my prayers and vows. Each time Mr Chandy would ask me, “With how much did you bribe the Creator, Odayatampuran? Isn’t it time at least now to stop this foolishness?” But at sixty-five I still have not lost my faith in prayer and vows. My mother who was a widow and with no one to help her, managed to raise her children and lead them to good places in life only because of her faith in prayers and vows. I received that faith from her. Now, I have wandered away from what I was saying. I was talking about my first case.
I reached the Bench along with Sri Nidhiry feeling self-confident. The case was called. I stood up. All eyes turned to the heroine, me. The Judge called me in a voice filled with happiness and pity, “Come on, Mrs Chandy, what have you to say?” No sooner had he uttered that, than I began to raise the arguments that I had studied and those that I was taught, like an unfettered stream flowing. In the middle, the lawyer representing the other side got up and took up his bow to send an arrow of a question towards me.
“Mr Phillip, please sit down; let her have her uninterrupted say. You and I will reserve all questions till the end,” ordered the Judge. My senior’s encouraging nod, and the looks of the non-misogynist lawyers egging me on, made me even more buoyant. I was able to reply effectively to the questions of the Judge and the opposing lawyer.
Mr Phillip got up and presented the opposing case quite well. But he could not refute my arguments. He was unable to do that simply because their case was weak. My loving revered teacher, my senior, deliberately chose this case because he was insistent that I should not lose my very first case.
Soon after the case was heard the Judge wrote his judgement on the appeal memo. It allowed the appeal with all expenses and overruled the lower court’s judgment. I bowed low to salute the Judge and stepped out of the court with Mr Nidhiri. My heart brimmed with happiness and contentment. I was buried in a veritable flood of congratulations. The first to congratulate me was Sri Nidhiry’s good friend and foremost among my well-wishers, Sri Telliyil Mathew (T J Mathew). “Hello, Mr Nidhiry, your ‘Devil’ has done very well,” — he said. And when I heard my gurunathan say in response, “How dare you call her my devil, she is my angel!” I grew taller at least by a foot.
Some (especially non-lawyers) may doubt why Mr Telliyil called me ‘Devil’. There is no reason to frown or misunderstand. In the language of lawyers, juniors are ‘devils’.
We went straight to the Bar Association room. Our victory procession consisted of all lawyers except those who had to be present in the Bench for the next case. Most of the lawyers gathered there were happy at my triumph and congratulated me. But there were a few who whispered, “The lawyer is female, and the judge, male. How could it be otherwise?” Throughout my life as a lawyer, there were a few of this sort who troubled me. Later when I practiced in the Travancore High Court, there were some among my envious colleagues who would shoot such poisoned arrows at me.
I remember one such incident now. A very respected, senior lawyer who was my teacher at the Law College, once lost a case that he had argued very passionately. The very next week, I had to argue a murder case. That was one in which the Paravur Sessions Court had awarded the death sentence, one in which a son was charged of having shot at and murdered his father. The High Court let the defendant go free.
The next day, when I went to the Bar Association room, I heard the lawyers there discuss the case I had fought. That worthy old gentleman said in a way that I would overhear him, but maybe not either: “If I wore a jumper and a sari when I argued in court, I would also have managed to get a judgment like this one!” I felt immeasurable pain when I heard that. I reached home that day, throbbing with sadness and nearly in tears. I told my husband in detail what I had overheard with tears in my eyes. His only reply was, “Aren’t you ashamed to be bawling just because some fellow said stupid things?”