Knowing Justice Anna Chandy: The First Female High Court Judge of India
She’s known as a first generation feminist who fought for women’s rights throughout her career.
In the early 20th century, women didn’t hold any important positions in public offices. At such a time, in 1937, Anna Chandy aka Anna Chandi, became the first female judge and the first High Court judge in India. By doing so, not only did she shatter the glass ceiling, but she also paved the way for other women to chase their dreams.
Born in 1905, in Trivandrum, Anna was a Syrian Christian. Despite being in a sexist and male-dominated environment, Anna went against all odds to obtain a law degree. In 1926, she earned her post-graduation from the Government Law College in Trivandrum. In 1929, she started practising as a barrister and specialised in criminal law.
While she practised law, she also fought for women’s rights through the Malayali magazine, Shrimati, which she founded and edited. As a first generation feminist, she advocated women’s rights and questioned sexist laws that affected women. She also worked towards encouraging widow remarriage, criticised wage discrimination based on gender, and fought against child marriage. Apart from this, in 1930, she also stood in the elections for the representative body of the Travancore state (Shree Mulam Popular Assembly). She faced stiff opposition and a smear campaign ruined her chances of winning the election. However, Anna persisted and didn’t give up. In 1931, she campaigned again and won the assembly seat for a tenure of two years between 1932 and 1934.
In 1937, she was appointed a munsif in Travancore by Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore. In 1948, she was promoted to the position of District Judge. On February 9, 1959, she was appointed as a female judge to the Kerala High Court, thus becoming the first woman to be a judge in an Indian high court. She remained in office until April 5th, 1967.
Apart from this, Anna also fought for women’s reservations. Due to her persistence and unrelenting effort, the statute that prevented women from working in government jobs was abolished. She also opposed the Travancore law which gave men explicit conjugal rights while violating women’s consent.
In 1973, her autobiography, Atmakatha, was published. She died at the age of 91 in 1996. Although we are yet to achieve gender equality in public offices, it can’t be denied that Justice Anna Chandy’s efforts not only forced the government to do away with sexist laws, but also encouraged women to pursue law and hold important positions in the field of judiciary.