The Autobiography of Anna Chandy – Part 3 Continued

[The next part of this chapter is of the many congratulatory letters that senior lawyers — the Advocate General K V Surianarayana Iyer and Taikad N Subramonia Iyer- published, and felicitatory reports in the Kerala Law Times]

… When I took charge as High Court Judge, the local Malayalam papers began to rack their brains on how a woman judge should be addresses — as Your Lordship or Your Ladyship, or as My Lord or My Lady. But this dispute did not arise in court at all. The lawyers continued to address me, with no difficulty at all, as Your Lordship and My Lord and my co-judges addressed me as My Learned Brother. After the debate over it ended, and after the woman judge who caused it disappeared, when, after some years, lawyers came together to pass the resolution that this mode of address was indeed quite unnecessary for even the ‘actual’ [male] Lordships themselves, and demanded to the Law Minister in Parliament that new rules be made, and he replied that the matter could well be sorted out between lawyers and judges, I felt a peculiar sort of satisfaction — I do not conceal it. But instead of tarrying on this problem of the right address, let me bring the interesting editorial published by the Times of India about the appointment of a ‘modern-day Portia’:

Portia

Sreemathi Anna Chandy, a District Sessions Judge of Kerala has made history in the most historic of Indian States. She is the first woman elevated to the Bench of a High Court. Her appointment obviously is not the result of the unusual accession of chivalry on the part of the State Government. Having established a distinguished record as Judge in the District, her appointment is natural and due entirely to merit. Kerala has stolen a march not only on its Indian neighbours but even on Russia and China whose High Courts — if they exist — are not to our knowledge, graced by women judges. Sreemathi Chandy’s appointment provides a precedent and holds out prospects which, while they will cause pleasurable flutters in the breasts of learned Portias the world over, may cause consternation in the rank of male lawyers. It also dissipates the heresy that law and logic are not the strong points of women. But, as a gallant cynic has observed, women are wiser than men, for they know less and understand more. If there were less logic-chopping and more understanding with male judges, they would not go wrong in their judgements as they frequently do. Women judges with their intuition and understanding, are more likely to reach the right decision in any case a male appeal court will, in all chivalry, if not in all conscience, hesitate to upset them. Well, women have successfully assaulted the stronghold of male domination; and communist Kerala has at least one fair feather to flourish in its red cap. Portia has at last disconcerted Daniel.

I took quite seriously the ideals and advice proffered to me in the above speeches and writings when I discharged my duties. My state of mind at this moment may be apparent in the following response speech that I made after taking the Oath of office, which I append, below:

Mr Advocate General, Mr President of the Advocates Association and members of the Bar,

I thank you for the very kind words of welcome.

I am not so presumptuous as to think that I deserve all the complimentary references you have kindly made about me. However, I consider my present appointment as a sign of recognition of women’s equal rights to the higher appointment in the judiciary, and in all the other spheres of activity. I know my limitations, and I am aware fully of the onerous responsibilities of my position. I have to measure up to the high standards set by my learned brothers, and I know I will also be looked upon as a representative of the awakening womanhood of India, particularly of those women who have taken law as a career. It is undoubtedly a difficult job. I promise I shall give of my best, and with your help and cooperation, which I confidently expect, and with the help and guidance of my Lord the Chief Justice, and of all my learned brothers, I hope to discharge my duties with some measure of credit. I am confident that the hand of Providence which guided me throughout my life, and also made me what I am, will guide me hereafter also and help me steer clear of error.

I shall be failing in my duty, if I do not say a few words to my sisters whom I am proud and happy to see here today. It is still very much a man’s world, and serious intrusions into it are not to be taken lightly. The path on which I set out some 30 years ago has not always been over-smooth. Each significant advance along that path had been met, sometimes with such strength that it was almost insuperable for a mere woman. But I take comfort in the thought that it is the price that the pioneer pays, and by paying it, the way is made smoother for those who would follow.

I begin my work with Chief Justice Ryan’s prayer, with which I started my career as Munsiff years back, and which I find adopted by my learned brother Justice T K Joseph when he assumed office. “Look down with mercy on Thy servant whom Thou sufferest to sit in earthly seat of Judgement to administer Thy Justice to Thy people. Grant me due sense of humility, that I may not be misled by my wilfulness, vanity, or egotism. Give me grace so to judge others now, that I may not myself be judged when Thou comest to judge the world with Thy Truth.”

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