“When the poorest in India need a voice, they find one in Jaising, a lawyer who has dedicated her life to battling injustice.”
It’s hard to believe that someone could have had a career as rich, meaningful and powerful as Jaising’s. She was the first woman to be appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India, the first woman senior advocate to be designated by the Bombay High court, the first woman to be elected to the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women and one of Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders of 2018. Indira Jaising is a powerful woman, giving a voice to India’s most marginalized. One of the main ways she does this is as the co-founder of Lawyers Collective, an NGO that promotes human rights issues in India.
Operating within a legal system that puts barriers up against the success of women, Indira Jaising shares stories of sexual harassment, having her work dismissed by male colleagues, being asked to speak only after males have spoken, and constant patronization. She expresses that she has had to work much harder to be taken seriously as a women; something that all of her female colleagues, even female judges, can also attest to. After she was appointed Additional Solicitor General she remarked on the discomfort of her male colleagues, “They are uncomfortable… and that’s part of the reason some judges make [patronizing] comments in an open court, because they are uncomfortable seeing women in such positions. If they are willing to patronise a woman and she gets patronised, it’s fine. But if a woman has a mind of her own, and her own point of view, the discomfort begins.” Fortunately these barriers have not slowed her down at all over the course of her fifty year career. Her work has led her to confront countless social issues in India, from police brutality, kidnappings, women’s rights, HIV issues, refugee issues and the decriminalization of homosexuality among many others.
Jaising is a trailblazer on the fight for equality for women in India. She has said, “The mindset of people in [Indian] society is that women are subordinate to men. This is true of all classes of society.” With a passion to see this change, she successfully challenged the discriminatory nature of the Indian Divorce Act, enabling Christian women to be able to divorce their husbands on the grounds of cruelty or desertion. She also drafted India’s first domestic violence act, allowing thousands of women to bring civil and criminal suits against attackers for the first time ever. Jaising has also fought against child labor, for the economic rights of women, estranged wives and domestic violence cases.
Recently, she has been appointed by the UN to deal with the cases involving Rohingya muslims in Myanmar where she is investigating the killings, rape and torture of Rohingya refugees by security forces.
When asked about what has led her to have such a profound impact on Indian society she has said, “When I started my career, I was clear about making law useful for sections of society which are dispossessed. The moment you have that focus, everything falls in place. Today, if I represent the cause of the dispossessed – such as homeless, women, bonded labour – it is because they have no stake in the system, because the system offers them nothing and they have to fight and struggle every inch of the way. This is where my attitude comes from.”
Indira is a beautiful example of love, justice, selflessness and bravery. She proves that one ordinary person can make a world difference.