Spunky, spirited and strong

ROLE MODEL

Spunky, spirited and strong

The Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court, Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, established an instant rapport with poor, semi-literate and tribal women from the remote villages of Jharkhand recently when she took a dispassionate look at social disparity.
To a large gathering of women in Itki in Ranchi district, she said, “If you had similar opportunities, we would have been at par. Now you should not allow your children to suffer a similar fate. Why is that I am addressing you and you are listening to me? Why this gap when all of us are human beings? It’s because I had opportunities and you did not.”

Justice Mishra’s name has been recommended for the post of judge in the Supreme Court of India. The move has generated a lot of interest within the legal fraternity and media circles because it means that the Supreme Court will get a woman judge after a gap of almost four years — the last woman judge in the Supreme Court, Justice Ruma Pal, having retired in June 2006.

The value of mentoring
Incidentally, Justice Mishra is a second generation judge. Her father, the late Satish Chandra Mishra, was Chief Justice of the Patna High Court between 1968 and 1970. Although she was born and raised in Patna, she is not new to the capital. She was based in Delhi for almost two decades, even working on some cases with her father, who was happy to see her elevated as a judge to the Patna High Court in 1994. She moved to the Rajasthan High Court in Jaipur, where she served as judge from 1994 to 2008.
As a practising lawyer, she has worked with legal luminaries like Ram Jethmalani, Soli Sorabjee, PP Rao, PC Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal. A sign of her popularity in the Apex Court was her victory in the Supreme Court Bar Association elections, when she was elected treasurer and joint secretary. She has been elected member executive several times as well.

Simplicity at its best
Married to a metallurgical engineer, Justice Mishra has juggled professional duties and family responsibilities with elan. Sources close to her recall how she shuttled between Jaipur and Delhi in the 14 years when she was judge in the Rajasthan High Court. Her husband, an introvert, is extremely proud of her achievements, as indeed are her three daughters. Her first-born holds an MBA degree from a US business school and is also a law graduate. Her second daughter is a software engineer and is all set to join Columbia University for an MS in Computer Science. The youngest is enrolled in a five-year law course in Pune.

Thanks to her long years in the legal profession, Justice Mishra has been able to garner rich and varied experiences. For instance, during her work in Rajasthan, where she also held the post of Executive Chairperson of Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority, she focused on social issues. Grassroots activists in the state recall how fiercely she had opposed child marriages, female foeticide and the trafficking of girls.

Epitome of hard work
During a relaxed interaction on diverse issues over dinner in Ranchi early this year, Justice Mishra came across as extremely cordial, pleasant and modest. At the time, I remember talking to her about the negligible representation of women on the Bench in the higher judiciary and the plight of qualified lawyers working out of suffocating, matchbox-sized chambers in the country’s subordinate courts. Justice Mishra observed that being a judge called for a lot of hard work and being a lawyer translated into working like a machine.

It’s this ability to listen, observe and understand people, coupled with inspiring influences at home in Patna, a city she calls her ‘janmabhoomi’ (birthplace) and partly her ‘karmabhoomi’, that have propelled her into the spotlight. Born into a large family, she grew up in a very enabling environment.

Justice Mishra did her schooling from Carmel Convent High School and later went to Patna Women’s College, one of the premier educational institutions for girls in the region. She got her graduate degree in Law (LLB) and postgraduate degree in Political Science from Patna University. She moved to Delhi in 1973, where she got a chance to work with BP Singh, who was later elevated as  judge of the Supreme Court. The following year she cleared her Advocate-on-Record examination after which she began practising with her father. She represented India at the International Women Judges Conference in Ottawa, Canada, in 1998.

Reading reams of legal papers may be an indispensable requirement of her job, but Justice Mishra also loves literature. Justice Mishra has always been a trailblazer. Her expected elevation to the Supreme Court will inspire a new generation of young women to make a mark in the legal profession.

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