Fewer than one-third of judges in the lower judiciary district courts and below, in 17 of 34 states and union territories in India are female, according to a February 2018 analysis by the New Delhi-based legal think tank, Vidhi Center For Legal Policy.
Women comprise 48.5 percent of the general population, and the domination of men in the lower judiciary, the frontline of the judicial system, might reduce courts’ legitimacy as representative of the societies they serve.
The inclusion of women in the judiciary enables courts to understand the real-world implications of their rulings, and reduces barriers to women’s access to justice, such as stigma associated with reporting violence and abuse, the report said. It could also signal “equality of opportunity for women in the legal profession and an appointments process that is merit-based, fair, and non-discriminatory”.
The Vidhi analysis used names of judges as reported on court websites between March and July 2017.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Dadra and Nagar Haveli had no female judges. Bihar, with 11.5 percent of all its lower courts judges female, had the lowest proportion of women judges in the lower judiciary of all states analysed, followed by Jharkhand (13.9 percent), Gujarat (15.1 percent) and Jammu and Kashmir (18.6 percent).
The highest proportion of women judges in the lower judiciary was in Meghalaya (73.8 percent), followed by Goa (65.9 percent) and Sikkim (64.7 percent).
The proportion of female judges is lower at the level of the district judge than at lower levels, the analysis showed. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, 42.1 percent of civil judges (junior division) were female compared to 13.6% of district judges.
Lack Of Data On Gender Diversity In Indian Judiciary
If there were fewer female civil judges (junior division) in 1995 than now, fewer women judges would currently occupy higher posts in the lower judiciary, since higher posts are mostly filled through promotion from civil judges (junior division), the report explained.
“Differences in the gender balance between these tiers may also hint at potential bias in promotional processes,” the report said. “Given that men and women are equally meritorious, in the absence of discrimination, one would assume that the proportion of women judges will remain the same from the lowest to the higher tiers, for any given batch of judicial officers.”
However, without information on the number of women graduating from law school, applying for judicial positions, and promotions over the years, it is difficult to understand the reasons behind the gender imbalance in the lower judiciary or the changes in the gender composition over time.
For the report, data on judges in the lower judiciary was collected from websites of different courts across states, and the gender of the judges determined on the basis of their prefix, and by using Gender-API.com, a database of names from across the world.
“There are no systematic efforts to regularly compile and publish even basic data on the proportion of women judges in different levels of Indian courts,” the report said. It is especially challenging to understand the composition of the lower judiciary given the large numbers of districts and judges and unavailability of nationwide statistics, the report explained.
“The judiciary is notorious for the lack of data… we had to call several times to even find out information about reservation policies for women in the judiciary in different states,” said Nitika Khaitan, research fellow at the judicial reform initiative at the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy.
Women Underrepresented In The Higher Judiciary
The Supreme Court and High Courts are the ‘higher judiciary’, while District Courts and below are the ‘lower’ or ‘subordinate’ judiciary.
Women are underrepresented even as higher levels in the judiciary. Since the Indian Supreme Court was established in 1950, it has had only six women judges, and currently has one woman judge out of 25. Across India’s 24 High Courts, a little more than 10 percent judges are women, with not even a single woman judge in eight High Courts, the report found.
Shreya Khaitan is a writer/editor with IndiaSpend.
This article has been published in arrangement with IndiaSpend.