In a significant departure from his usual topics of discussion, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud openly shared personal anecdotes during his address to law students, shedding light on the challenges faced by legal professionals, particularly women, and the imperative for change within the legal field. The occasion was the 31st Convocation of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bengaluru.
The Chief Justice recounted the experience of his late first wife, a lawyer, who ventured into the legal profession. He disclosed that she had inquired about working hours at a law firm and was informed that the commitment was round-the-clock, leaving no room for family life. The suggestion was that she should find a husband capable of handling domestic responsibilities, effectively dismissing the possibility of a work-life balance. He expressed optimism that such attitudes are gradually evolving.
CJI Chandrachud underscored the need for improved working conditions and equilibrium between professional and personal life in legal practices. He stressed the importance of creating accessible and supportive environments for women, sharing that his female law clerks were offered the option to work from home during menstrual discomfort. He championed the significance of acknowledging these challenges and addressing them openly, advocating for a broader conversation on these issues.
The Chief Justice highlighted progressive steps taken towards gender equality within the Supreme Court. He mentioned the installation of sanitary napkin dispensers in women’s restrooms as a step toward ensuring equal opportunities. He lauded the release of a Supreme Court handbook on dismantling gender stereotypes and referenced efforts to sensitize judges about the use of outdated terms in court proceedings.
CJI Chandrachud’s contributions to women’s rights were also acknowledged. His landmark decisions on subjects such as women’s permanent commission in the Army, adultery, Sabarimala temple entry, and unmarried women’s inclusion in the abortion law have significantly advanced the status of women in the country.
The Chief Justice additionally shared instances of caste discrimination in the legal realm. He recounted an incident involving a law office intern who was asked about their caste and subsequently dismissed based on their response. This account left the Chief Justice disheartened and emphasized the importance of lawyers upholding constitutional values while practicing law. He expressed that, as legal practitioners, they are entrusted with a greater duty to uphold justice and equity.
CJI Chandrachud’s candid address marked a significant moment in acknowledging the multifaceted challenges and responsibilities faced by legal professionals and the need for a more inclusive and conscientious legal environment.