Mithan Tata (Lam) was the first woman barrister to practice in a court. She was also a sheriff of Mumbai and served as a president of All India Women’s Conference. At the age of 25, she was appointed as the judge of Bombay High Court, shunning the patriarchal voices. Her contributions to Hindu Code Bill, Marriage and Divorce Act were indispensable. A woman holding numerous titles in such an era, leaves a great mark of empowerment and makes her a prominent face of feminism.
Mithan Tata was born in a Parsi family to a textile mill employee Ardeshir Tata and women’s rights activist Herabai Tata. Having a forward and encouraging father, who helped her with tutors and focused on education, was a strong support she had since her childhood. Her mother Herabai Tata was a passionate advocate of women’s rights, who tried to elevate the condition of rural Indian women. In 1915, Herabai became the honorary secretary of the Women’s Indian Association.
She along with her daughter Mithan, toured around Britain in 1919, with other women, looking for support from several groups on the issue of women’s right to vote. “Why should India lag behind others in this respect and create a barrier where one does not exist, and thus brand Indian women as inferior to their sisters in other countries,” they said. Their efforts resulted in voting rights for women in Madras in 1921, for the first time.
Mithan was sent to Free Fletcher School in Mumbai and later for higher studies to Elphinestone College in 1914, where she was awarded with Cobden Club Medal for her outstanding performance in economics. Later she joined London school of Economics to complete her master’s degree pursuing law and qualified as a Barrister at Lincoln Inn in 1919.
During her stay in London she associated with several other women leaders such as Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant who helped her liberate her thoughts and were also active for campaigning for women right’s in India. After the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, she was allowed to work in public office as bar at Lincoln Inn in 1923.
she was appointed as Chairman of All India Women Conference from 1961-62. While serving the term, she also started an official journal named Sthri Dharma.
On her return to India in 1924, Tata joined as the first woman lawyer in the Bombay High Court. She was also a law professor in Government Law College of India. After three years of her immense practise, she was appointed as a committee member of Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1865. In 1947, Mithan Tata was appointed as the first women sheriff of Bombay High Court and also the head of a committee to look after refugees from Pakistan who had settled in Bombay. Later, she was appointed as Chairman of All India Women Conference from 1961-62. While serving the term, she also started an official journal named Sthri Dharma.
Humanitarian Works And Awards
In 1919, when Mithan accompanied Herabai Tata to Britain, she met Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh who was a prominent member of Women’s social and political union, whose organisation argued on women’s suffrage and started a procession in June 1911. Both of them took the issue of women’s suffrage to the British Council and submitted the memorandum of women’s right to vote in India. They also spoke about the situation of women in rural India and how they were barred from education as they were regarded as backward.
She advocated democratic rights that women were deprived of, especially voting rights. When she was called as Bar in London, she stated that the history of India holds witness to the women rulers and philosophers who fought for their territory, and that they should be given right to vote and considered equal.
Mithan wrote in her journal to educate and aware the public about women’s empowerment and the need of education which should be equal for both men and women. She was also very active as a social worker in Matunga labour camp, which is one of the slums in Bombay. She advocated democratic rights that women were deprived of, especially voting rights. When she was called as Bar in London, she stated that the history of India holds witness to the women rulers and philosophers who fought for their territory, and that they should be given right to vote and considered equal. Due to her nationalist approach towards India, and her work for the liberation of women, she was awarded with Padma Bhushan in 1962.
Later Life And Death
Mithan was married to Jamshed Sorab Lam who was a lawyer and a registrar. He encouraged her in her work and activism. The couple had a son named Sorab Jamshed Sorabsha Lam, who was an orthopedic surgeon. In her early days, Mithan stated how lucky she was to have liberal father, who endorsed education both of his wife and daughter. The further studies which she continued in London, was also accompanied by her mother, who enrolled herself to the course.
She quotes, “I have been greatly lucky in my menfolk-a liberal father of very advanced views, a loving and generous husband and a fine son.” After she began practising in Bombay High Court she writes, “I felt like a new animal at the zoo, with folks peeping through doorways, country yokels gaping and pointing at me, all because no other women had appeared as counsel before.” She died at the age of 83. Her life story is documented in her autobiography published by K.R Cama Oriental Institute as Autumn Leaves.