A year ago, just ten minutes after I had landed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. I was introduced to this young lawyer – not the least bit enthusiastic, a big critic of the law, of lawyers, of the High Court, and most importantly, of women. “Let me tell you a secret: law is not a profession for girls,” said he. He pronounced this in a whisper as if he were spilling a secret that, if other lawyers got to hear, he would be bashed up for. But of the sixty lawyers sitting in that room, I don’t think even a single one would have objected because almost every male lawyer has the same, strong opinion. And the best part? They only tell this to the ones about whom they care, or so they think.
I had never heard at home or at school or in college that a girl cannot do something because she is a girl, and that if she were a boy, she could have done it. Luckily, I was brought up in an environment where I was told, “You have to do it and you can do it”. I remember when my brother told my mom that cooking is something only girls do, he got a whack from her, and I saw him making French toast in the next ten minutes. Maybe it was my mom who taught us that there is no such thing called a division of labour between a girl and a boy. I also remember my skating coach making me do more push-ups than boys; it made me see no distinction between what girls and boys are capable of.
For almost a year since that declaration, every day I have thought about why lawyers would think that litigation is not something girls should get their hands into. It’s strange that those who campaign for equality day in and day out, the ones who discuss equality in every draft as staunch believers talk like this.
And yes, the supporting argument that almost all of them have is that the ‘environment’ is ‘not good’. Well, I now realise why they say this with so much authority. It is because they themselves have created this ‘environment’ by staring at women lawyers as they walk from one courtroom to another, gossiping behind their backs, and talking shit about them. My question is this: Is the environment at the vegetable market where almost every woman has to go three days a week ‘good’? And even if the environment in courthouses is ‘bad’, it is because people, particularly men, have created this environment and then, suddenly, are of the opinion that it is a ‘bad’ one.
And that’s not all. Another hobby of these lawyers is to discuss the ‘character’ of all the female lawyers almost every day. It is the gossip of the court at break-time, it is so very easy and casual for them. And if a woman lawyer happens to be a bit more talkative than most, then the game of survival tends to be more difficult for her.
It is still hard for me to believe that people sitting in top positions think there are things women cannot do simply because they are women. I don’t know who gave them the authority to assume these things about us. Someone needs to remind them of certain facts like how it is women who have won medals in Olympics for India this time around. Maybe men are busy giving opinions about what women can and cannot do instead of doing something themselves.
A disclaimer: I am not of the opinion that all men are the same. No, of course they are not, but the majority of the ones I’ve met professionally believe that there are tons of things that women should not do. I believe it is because these men feel the need to maintain a monopoly in the professional field. And I think it is not only in the profession of law that women confront this inequality but also in almost every other field.
And this makes me feel the saddest because instead of empowering women as they claim to want to do, the efforts they make are to render them powerless.
But, should women give up? I think not. It is high time we take on the challenge and work towards our goals and conquer our dreams with not a damn to spare for what men think about us.