On Thursday, India mourned the loss of a legal luminary and a trailblazer for women in the judiciary, Justice M. Fathima Beevi, who passed away at the age of 96. Remembered not only as the first woman judge appointed to the Supreme Court of India but also as the inaugural Muslim woman to ascend to such a prestigious position, her legacy is etched in the annals of Indian legal history.
Established on January 26, 1950, the Supreme Court has seen a paucity of women judges throughout its 71-year existence. Remarkably, only eight women, starting with the historic appointment of M. Fathima Beevi in 1989, have graced the bench during this period.
A Pioneering Journey: The Life and Times of Justice M. Fathima Beevi
M. Fathima Beevi, born on April 30, 1927, in Kerala, was urged by her father to pursue a career in law. Her commitment to excellence was evident when she secured the top position in the Bar Council exam in 1950, earning the distinction of being the first woman to be awarded the Bar Council gold medal.
Embarking on her legal career in Kerala, she steadily climbed the judicial ladder, achieving the position of a district and sessions judge in 1974. Her journey continued as she joined the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal in 1980 and, three years later, was appointed as a High Court judge.
The Apex of the Judiciary: Breaking Barriers
In 1989, M. Fathima Beevi shattered the glass ceiling by making history as the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of India. Her tenure, spanning from 1989 to her retirement on April 29, 1992, was marked by her unwavering commitment to justice and the rule of law.
Post-retirement, she further contributed to the legal and human rights landscape, serving as a member of the National Human Rights Commission. Subsequently, she assumed the role of the Governor of Tamil Nadu, showcasing her dedication to public service.
A Principled Stand: Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Case
Her commitment to justice was put to the test during her tenure as the Governor of Tamil Nadu when she faced the challenging task of adjudicating on mercy petitions in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Justice M. Fathima Beevi, true to her principles, resigned from the post after rejecting the mercy petitions filed by four condemned prisoners.
As India bids farewell to this iconic jurist, her life and legacy serve as an inspiration for future generations, emphasizing the importance of breaking barriers and championing justice in the pursuit of a more equitable and inclusive judiciary.