Fathima Beevi – A True Inspiration

Right to Education is the Fundamental Right given by our Indian Constitution. Is this right is effectively used in our society? No, many of the children are deprived of education. The ratio of girls are more as compared to boys. As per our Indian mentality what is the need to educate girls? They should learn doing household works and be at home. In earlier days, it was a story of every other family. But some stories are different so their stories become an inspiration for others. One such story is of The First Lady Judge of Supreme Court she is Fathima Beevi. She was also the first Muslim woman in Higher Judiciary and the first woman to become a Supreme Court Justice in an Asian country. Fathima Beevi was born to Annaveettil Meerasahib and mother Khadeeja Beevi. They had six daughters and two sons. Out of the eight children, Fathima was the eldest. In a society where women were not given access to education, her parents encouraged the kids to pursue their education and career.

Initially, she completed her graduation in Bachelor of Science, later she completed her Law Degree from the prestigious Govt. Law College in Trivandrum, Kerala. She was inspired by Ms. Anna Chandy, who was the First Female Judge in India who happened to be from her hometown. She passed her law with a gold medal being one of the five women students in a class, upholding values taught by her parents. In 1950, she enrolled as an advocate in a district court at Kollam, the same year Honourable Supreme Court was established.

After eight years of legal practice at Kollam District Court, she cleared the public exam to become a Munsif. In the year 1972, she rose to the rank of Chief Judicial Magistrate, later in 1974 got promoted as District Sessions Judge. In 1983 she was appointed as the High Court Judge of Kerala. Finally, in 1989 she was inducted as the First Female Judge in the Supreme Court, owing to her excellent caliber and expertise in the legal profession. After her retirement, she served as a member of the National Human Rights Commission for four years.

On the 25th of January 1997, she was appointed as the Governor of Tamil Nadu by the then President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma. A major decision she took as the governor was rejecting the mercy petitions filed by the four condemned prisoners in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. In 2001 she invited AIADMK General Secretary J Jayalalitha to take oath as the chief minister, a decision that was criticised because even though Jayalalitha’s party had received the simple majority Jaylalitha had been barred from contesting in the elections because of her conviction in a corruption case. However, Fatima Beevi maintains that it was not a spontaneous decision, she had consulted the then sitting judges of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice of India. Jaylalitha had been acquitted and had no conviction when appointed by Justice Beevi. Following this, the Union Cabinet decided to recommend the President to recall the Governor for having failed to discharge her constitutional obligation. Justice Fatima Beevi decided to resign, thus her eventful term as the Governor of Tamil Nadu came to a controversial end in 2001. Eventually, the Supreme Court of India overturned Fatima Beevi’s decision to appoint Jayalalithaa as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. 

After her retirement from the Supreme Court in 1992 Beevi served as a member of the National Human Rights Commission (1993)  and the Chairman of Kerala Commission for Backward Classes(1993). She received Hon. D Litt and Mahila Shiromani Award in 1990. She was also awarded the  Bharat Jyoti Award and the US-India Business Council (USIBC) Life Time Achievement Award. As the Governor of Tami Nadu, she also served as the Chancellor of Madras University. In 2002, the left parties discussed the nomination of Fathima Beevi as the President of India, however, the NDA Government proposed the name of Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam.

Representation of women in higher Judiciary is quite nominal even till date. The country has only a little over 10% of women in the judicial field at that time when women were not given an equal chance to be part of the Judiciary. She is an advocate of gender equality and has mentioned that there was a need to elevate the representation of women to judgeships. She has always been vocal about the unequal treatment women have to face in the Judiciary.  Fathima Beevi continues to be a role model for every woman aspiring to enter the historically male dominated space of the courtroom, and let us hope to see a significant increase in women’s representation in higher judiciary in future.

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