A High Court Judge
I was the District Judge at Kozhikode when I was appointed High Court Judge. The appointment came when I was 54; with just one more year for retirement as District Judge. By then, my desire to enter the High Court had more or less died down. But Mr Chandy’s scolding began. Because he was now retired and living with me in Kozhikode, he had ample opportunity too. “Do you know see what happened from jumping to take the Munsiff’s post, not paying attention to my warning that you will end up old and grey and won’t be able to enter the High Court?” He kept pestering me thus.
It was then that there arose two vacancies in the High Court. If I wasn’t appointed to one of those, then I could only retire as a District Judge. There were strong rumours that efforts were afoot to appoint lawyers to these posts but maybe because of the strength of my astrological chart like the astrologer said, or maybe because of God’s grace in which I believe, I was honored to be appointed the first woman judge, like I became the first woman Munsiff. By appointing me thus, Kerala won the credit for both these firsts, in India and the world.
My appointment as High Court Judge was in the time of the first communist ministry led by Sri EMS Namboodirippad. Though the Chief Minister, the Law Minister Sri V R Krishaiyer, other Ministers like C Achyutha Menon, and Smt K R Gouri Amma — all of them — were very satisfied and interested in my appointment, I believed that it was my respected friend Smt Gouri who took the initiative for it with pride and courage. There is surely nothing inappropriate in this.
It was when I was the District Judge at Kozhikode that I saw and met her. I got to know that the Minister K R Gouri was coming to inaugurate a women’s association. That was a working day at court. The meeting was at four. In the normal case, the District Judge cannot leave court before five to attend a women’s association meeting. But having heard of her highly inspiring and lively speeches, I finished up the day’s work by four that day and reached the meeting by 4 15. She was making a fiery speech amidst abundant applause — not wanting to disturb, I sat down among the audience.
Though the woman Judge required no protection by male daffedars in a women’s association meeting, a tall daffedar was right behind me with his head-dress and uniform. The intrusion of a daffedar into the women’s association meeting caught the Minister’s eye. Seeing that I was responsible, she whispered to the president of the meeting to invite me on the podium and seat me next to her. Finishing her inaugural speech, she asked me to make a speech. It was a time when it was quite easy for me to make a illuminating speech on women’s deprivations, the rights they richly deserve, or on the paths towards claiming them, and I made good use of displaying my public-speaking abilities in front of the Minister. The Judge complimented the Minister on her speech, and the Minister returned the compliment after the Judge spoke.
After the meeting was over, we chatted, and she asked where I lived. I invited her to dinner. She accepted the invitation gladly. We agreed to meet at nine in the evening and parted. I went home, and applied some of my cooking tricks and Mr Chandy and I had dinner with the Minister. When she praised the food, Mr Chandy told her proudly that it was Madam Judge’s handiwork. And Mr Chandy, who had vowed to get his District Judge wife into the High Court convinced her that if I were not selected to a vacancy in the High Court, I would simply have to retire as District Judge. Before she left, she declared that she would not let women lose opportunities they deserve as long as she was in the Ministry. That is why I said that she took the initiative in my appointment.
Anyway, the first communist ministry deserves the laurels for winning for Kerala the honour of appointing the first High Court Judge in India. The Times of India wrote an editorial on my appointment and said: “Well! Women have successfully assaulted the stronghold of male domination. Communist Kerala has at least one fair feather to flourish in his red cap.”
When the appointment order arrived, there were a large send-offs organized at Kozhikode. On behalf of lawyers, from co-judges, from the public — I managed to finish up all of this and set off for Ernakulam with Mr Chandy and my son and daughter-in-law who can hurried to Kozhikode to share our joy. On 2 February 1959, I took charge as a Judge of the Kerala High Court. I went to church with the children early that morning and made offerings in gratitude for the high honours received. I prayed for God’s grace that I may be able to take up this heavy responsibility properly, returned home, and went to the High Court with my beloved husband who is behind all my achievements in life, and my children. When the car reached the portico of the court, the Registrar of the High Court, the Sepoy, and another Sepoy bearing the silver staff that is the official symbol of the High Court Judge, the Bar Association President, and others were waiting to greet me. They led Mr Chandy and the children to their seats. I went to the Chief Justice’s chamber. The other Judges as well as my respected friend Velu Pillai who was also taking charge as a Judge with me, were present there. We were led to the first Bench. The place was filled with lawyers, their clerks, court officials, the public, journalists, and such people. The Registrar read out the Indian President’s order appointing Velu Pillai and myself Judges of the High Court. Then we took the Oath of Office. I repeated the pledge read out by the Chief Justice in the name of God, prayerfully.
Before I continue this autobiography, readers are requested not to misunderstand me when I reveal the truth that when our appointments (those of Velu Pillai’s and mine) were under the consideration of authorities and they seemed to be delaying, I set aside my faith in God under pressure from Mr Chandy and consulted some astrologers. When we asked a young brahmin astrologer called Ambi, he said that I would get the appointment for sure, and soon. When I told my friend [Velu Pillai] this, he asked me to send Ambi to him. And so Ambi went to his house and examined his horoscope and star-chart and predicted that he too would be appointed along with me, and that we would sit on the same Bench and hear cases together. His predictions were accurate. We did enter the High Court on the same day and sit on the same Bench and hear cases together. If I remember right, Velu Pillai himself mentioned this in a speech he made. I am writing this story here in the hope that Ambi might benefit somehow from it. Anyway I am certain that those who desire to be appointed to the vacancies in the High Court will not hesitate from encouraging Ambi. I can’t remember his real name. If you ask my respected friend whose memory is keener than mine, he will tell you. He lives somewhere in Poojappura.