Indira Jaising is one of the country's leading human rights advocates and was named among Fortune magazine's 'Fifty Greatest Leaders' in 2018. She was also the first woman to be appointed as Additional Solicitor General of India in 2009. So when Attorney General KK Venugopal referred to her in court as the wife of senior counsel Anand Grover, she wasn't going to let it pass.
"I am a person in my own right," Ms Jaising said, asking the government's top lawyer to withdraw his comment.
The exchange took place before the two-judge bench which was hearing the attorney general's contempt petition against senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan. Mr Grover was appearing for Ms Jaising, who filed an application seeking to intervene in the matter.
When Mr Grover said he was appearing for "Ms Jaising", Justice Mishra asked, "Not Indira Jaising?"
"You should say your wife," said Mr Venugopal, also present in the courtroom.
"Mr Attorney General, please withdraw your statement. I am a person in my own right," Ms Jaising said. Mr Grover too called the attorney general's remarks "sexist".
Moments later, Ms Jaising apologised for raising her voice but stood by her point. "We identify as individual lawyers. We are not to be identified as somebody's wife or husband. We are maintaining our individuality. Hence, we chose not to change our names," she said.
The incident made waves on social media as well, with Ms Jaising responding to some of them with her message to Supreme Court lawyers: "Mind your language in court".
Mind your language in court https://t.co/sk6oaMJFBP— indira jaising (@IJaising) March 7, 2019
Indian court rooms will only lose their casual (and deep set) misogyny by being called out. Thankful for people like @IJaising who take on these small, infuriating battles as well as the huge ones. https://t.co/D1ndkITZi2— Nishita Jha (@NishSwish) March 7, 2019
Immense respect. That this needs to be said in 2019!— Kiran Manral (@KiranManral) March 7, 2019
"We women have considerable experience in courts, as lawyers, as litigants, as witnesses," she said in a tweet.
At the hearing, Ms Jaising sought to intervene in the matter as the court was dealing with the issue of whether lawyers and litigants can criticise the court when a case is sub-judice, to influence public opinion.
The attorney general withdrew his contempt petition and told the Supreme Court that Mr Bhushan has "realised his mistake".
Ms Jaising drafted India's first domestic violence act, allowing women to bring civil and criminal suits against attackers for the first time. She received the Padma Shree award in 2005 for her service towards the causes of public affairs. In 2017, she was appointed by the UN to lead a fact-finding mission probing the alleged persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state by security forces.
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