Legal Luminaries

INDIRA JAISING

She was convinced of the power of law in getting justice for sections of society which are dispossessed. “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,” are her reasons for representing women, bonded labour and the homeless.

Her attitude describes her best! And what brings on this attitude? Unshakeable conviction, immense confidence and rare belief are what have lent Indira Jaising her attitude.

“The moment you have focus, everything fails in place,” says India talking of the time when she started her career. She was convinced of the power of law in getting justice for sections of society which are dispossessed. “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,” are her reasons for representing women, bonded labour and the homeless.

Indira is a pioneer in fighting on issues for women. More than a decade ago, she fought the Rupen Deol Bajaj sexual harassment case. A set of variegated and strong cases fought by her include the Mary Roys case, whereby equal inheritance rights were granted to Syrian Christian women in Kerala, and the landmark Githa Hariharan case where the mother was granted the status of ‘natural guardian’ of her minor children. Although these judgments signaled a leap in awareness for the judiciary and the civil society, Indira feels that the information on these positive, proactive laws is to permeate and show their real impact. Her stand on women’s issues and societal biases stems from the stand she took in her own life. She refused to bow down to family pressure when it came to marriage. “I wanted to resist marriage as destiny,” is her rake on the issue. When she married she wanted it to be due to her own wish, which she did in 1979. She married Kenya-born Anand Grover, whom she met in London. Both were part of the trade union movement. The couple are known for their legal initiative, the Lawyer’s Collective, which focuses on human rights, social justice and corruption.

Perhaps the reason behind her being different is her difference in thought. By her own admission she always wanted to be in a profession that lent her opportunities to make critical differences to people’s lives. And egging her on was the approval of some progressive judges like Krishna Iyer and P.N. Bhagwati in the 1980s.

Yet, it is not only stalwarts who inspired her. Even the Mughal-e-Azam poster on her living room wall is a symbol of her belief that “all women are beautiful.” Of course, this poster brings forth a little-known facet of this firebrand’s personality – her love for music. A Hindustani classical music enthusiast, she sings and practices with her guru, Shamsher Singh. Her favourite ghazal is Bahadur Shah Zafar’s “Lagta nahi hai dil mera…” and Wajid Ali Shah’s celebrated thumri “Babul mora…” To the world Jaising may present a hard-nosed feminist face, but speaking of childhood memories brings forth a rather vulnerable Indira. Though born in Mumbai in 1940, when speaking of her lost homeland, Sind, as an aftermath of Partition, she laments the emptiness that words cannot capture. “It was a feeling of statelessness because Sind does not have a state in India. A feeling of displacement— somewhere it persists even today.” She says. But this magnet of positively has turned this loss into an advantage—“But I have managed to convert it into a positive feeling that allows me to consider every place my home.”

A leader rather than a follower, a trendsetter rather than a blind imbiber, Jaising has been the first Indian woman to be elected to the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the first women to become Additional Solicitor General.

A personality of many facets, she has helped women in getting their due. Inspired by women, fighting for women and now an inspiration for many women – Indira Jaising, reflects the true power of the women of the country.


We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001. sales@ubtlawbooks.com

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