Editor’s Note: This month, that is January 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Resistance and Hope, where we invite various articles on people’s thoughts on the topic- what resistance means to you, ways in which you resist oppressive structures and norms in your everyday life, your sources of hope and courage, etc. If you’d like to share your story, email us at email@example.com.
The Beginning Of Resistance
A newspaper published by the Indian News Agency from the cities of London, Bombay and Poona reported on September 1, 1916, that “the latest attempt on the part of a woman to break her birth’s invidious bar and get within the defences of a strictly guarded profession was made by a Bengali lady at the end of July.” The “Bengali Lady” in this context was Regina Guha, a woman of Jewish-Bengali ancestry, who after completing her MA and Bachelor of Law from Calcutta University in 1913 and 1916 respectively, submitted an application to be enrolled as a pleader of the Court of District Judge of Alipore.
However, a five judge bench in Guha’s case unanimously decided that only men are entitled to be admitted as pleaders. Similarly, following the example of Guha, many women across the country started taking the radical step of choosing to be lawyers. Few years later, another woman, Sudhansu Bala Hazara a student of Calcutta University, also aspired to become a lawyer and argued that women too are “persons” who should be allowed to enter the legal profession. The Patna High Court in the said matter, held that women never had the right to practise law in India and turned down Hazara’s request as anomalous. She later moved to the Privy Council to appeal against the judgment of the High Court contending that it is gender discriminatory.
Within a year of the said judgement, a famous lawyer and a member of the Central Legislative Assembly, Dr. Hari Singh Gaur argued in favour of ending the injustice against women and eventually, The Legal Practitioners (Women) Act was passed in 1923. The said act was passed for the removal of doubts regarding the right of women to be enrolled as legal practitioners and affirmed that “no woman shall, by reason only of her sex, be disqualified from being admitted or enrolled as a legal practitioner or from practising as such.” The temples of justice threw open their doors to women, and the new law allowed women to plead in courts.
Any act of resistance, during the times of oppression becomes an act of courage. The combined efforts of Guha, Hazara and many other women who decided to enter the legal profession and fight for their rights because of their love for the law and justice, was an act of resistance challenging the gender discrimination and bias against women which in their profession.
Considering a deeply entrenched patriarchal society that we live in, many women are still discouraged from taking up law as a career option because of the common notion that law has always been a male dominated profession
My Story : A Present-Day Female Law Student In India
Coming from an upper-caste middle class family, I lived in complete oblivion for the first eighteen years of my life. Having been conditioned in a society that discriminated against women, I was never able to spot the discrimination and thought it was normal. Interestingly, things took a wild turn when I decided to join law school. Considering a deeply entrenched patriarchal society that we live in, many women are still discouraged from taking up law as a career option because of the common notion that law has always been a male dominated profession and women should cogitate about such career options that fit the socially constructed norm of what is ‘womanly’, or something which would not enable them to develop a critical perspective, thereby dissuading them from knowing about their rights.
Some are also of the view that women who choose law become too outspoken for them to find a suitable husband when they reach the socially established marriageable age. Despite the efforts of revolutionary women dedicating their entire lives to fight patriarchy by acquiring the right of women to enter the profession, the idea of women entering a male dominated profession and competing with their male counterparts on the basis of their skills and acumen is still considered a threat to the male privilege.
The fact that there are no lawyers in my family was a serious impediment in the process of finalising my choice of future career. Nevertheless, I was fortunate or rather, privileged enough to have supportive parents who did not have a problem with my decision to study law, as long as I was willing to work hard and give my best to it. Thus, not conforming to the ingrained gender bias when it comes to women considering their career options, was an act of resistance on my part. The main purpose of resistance in any space or relationship is to seek justice and equality. However, an act of resistance can only be accompanied with the acknowledgement of discrimination, and as Brenda Hogett puts it precisely-
“Only when women are aware of the extent of the discrimination against them, of how it operates and how to use the law to their own ends will further progress be made.”
Although a lot of women are now entering the legal field in contemporary times, but there is still a need for women to be aware of the forms and extent discrimination that often go unnoticed as a consequence of us being a part of the same patriarchal structure that is also a cause of our oppression.
Empowerment And A New Lens
Law school has equipped me with a critical lens which enables me to constantly challenge everything. This not only helps me to resist what I believe is unjust, but was also a medium through which I learnt about feminism. My first encounter with feminism came about in my first year, through an assignment in Political Science, which expected us to write reflections on The Bitch Manifesto. Since then, I began exploring feminism, and to my surprise, even started spotting the various forms of oppression that women face in a patriarchal societal structure. This was also the beginning of an enlightenment phase for me, which came about through the process of unlearning many things that I was conditioned to believe in since my childhood, being a part of the same structure and acknowledging things which I was previously oblivious to.
For instance, while I was at school, my friends and I were often reprimanded if the hem of our skirts was not as per the “desired” length. Moreover, despite being in a co-education school, sitting close to our male friends was something that was looked down upon. While at school, I did see such castigation as problematic, but studying law has helped me recognise these implicit acts of discrimination and has empowered me to speak up against them.
Though still a sophomore looking forward to read, write, watch , learn and unlearn to a great extent, law school has provided me with a sense of empowerment, awareness, and most importantly, a means to claim my rights.
studying law has helped me recognise these implicit acts of discrimination and has empowered me to speak up against them.
My Hopes And The Road Ahead
Any act of resistance is incomplete without resilience and hope. Women across the world have faced severe oppression and marginalisation since centuries in a society that has its roots in patriarchy. However, as far as the present situation of a large number of women is concerned, they are giving a tough competition to their male counterparts in almost all walks of life. This was possible because of the combined struggles of millions of our sisters who blatantly resisted to be embraced by the shackles of patriarchy. Late Pakistani Poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s revolutionary poem “Hum Dekhenge“, relevant in every context where oppression exists, becomes relevant here as well. He writes –
“Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-giraan, rui ki tarah ud jaayenge
Hum mahkoomon ke paaon tale, yeh dharti dhad dhad dhadkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar upar, jab bijli kad kad kadkegi, hum dekhenge.”
[“When mountains of tyranny will blow away like cotton
When the ground beneath the feet of us who are the oppressed will shake and tremble
When thunderous lightning will hover over the rulers, we shall surely witness.”]
Thus, the struggle to smash patriarchy is still in process, and many people in many small corners of the world are contributing towards it. I hope for a feminist future where everyone can accomplish the rebellious act of being themselves. I hope for a day when the mountains of injustice will be blown away like cotton. And then we shall see, Hum Dekhenge!
Featured image credits: talking humanities