Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Saturday, while addressing law students regarding challenges in the legal profession, for the first time publicly mentioned his late first wife. Sources close to the top judge said the reference wasn’t part of his speech, but he decided at the last moment that this experience was better for the students than bookish knowledge.
“My late former wife who was a lawyer, when she went to a law firm, she asked what would be the working hours, and she was told it is 24×7 and 365 days,” the CJI said, adding that she was told there would be no family time for her.
“When she asked what about ones with family, she was told find a husband who can do household chores and there is no family time,” he said.
He said he was, however, optimistic that things are changing now.
The CJI was addressing the students at the 31st Convocation of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bengaluru. He spoke about the need for better working hours and work-life balance in law offices and chambers of lawyers.
Emphasising the need to make workplaces more accessible and friendly to women, CJI Chandrachud also pointed out how his female law clerks were asked to work from home when they were suffering from menstrual pain.
“Last year, four law clerks out of five were women. It is common for them to call me up and say that, ‘Sir I have menstrual cramps’. I tell them, ‘please work from home and take care of your health’. It is important that we have this conversation. We can’t pretend these issues don’t exist,” he said.
He also said sanitary napkin dispensers have recently been installed in women’s toilets at the Supreme Court.
“If we are to make our institutions equal-opportunity workplaces, these conversations must happen,” he said.
The CJI also highlighted the recently-released Supreme Court handbook on gender stereotyping, saying, “We have tried to sensitise our judges as to why we should not call a woman a ‘housewife’. We have tried to sensitise our judges that these terms are no longer acceptable in modern India.”
Significantly, CJI Chandrachud has given many historic verdicts regarding women’s rights. He has tried to strengthen the status of women in the country through decisions such as permanent commission for women officers in the Army, orders on adultery, entry into the Sabarimala temple, and including unmarried women in the abortion law.
He also started a hearing on the horrific video of women being paraded naked in Manipur by taking suo motu cognisance, and said he was hurt by the incident.
He recalled another incident, regarding caste discrimination in the legal profession, and said some lawyers are violating the law when they are supposed to uphold constitutional values.
“I recently heard a story that left me heartbroken. I was told that a young student began their internship at a law office when the supervisor asked them which caste they belonged to. Upon sharing the answer, the intern was told not to return to the office. I must confess that I was filled with despair when I heard of this incident. As lawyers, we are keenly aware of the society and its injustices. Our duty to practice and uphold constitutional values at every point in our lives is, therefore, greater than that of a common citizen. Yet, this incident shows that some lawyers are violating the law, leave aside upholding constitutional values,” he said.