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Lawyers, not feminists

Drashti Thakkar
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People Seven women use their expertise to spread awareness about legal issues, especially to the deserving and the destitute, writes Drashti Thakkar

Raising the barThe lawyers at Udaya P.S. Menon and Associates
Raising the barThe lawyers at Udaya P.S. Menon and Associates

“They don’t call us a law firm, they call us an army,” smiles Revathi Rajesh an advocate in Coimbatore. She is speaking of Udaya P.S. Menon and Assosiates, Coimbatore’s first and only all-women law firm with seven women advocates. Recently, The Supreme Court of India was presented with a report about the sexual harassment complaint committees at various high courts and district courts. The report said that these existed only on paper. Even as this lack of security in workplace for lady lawyers is revealed, women continue to come out strong in the field.

Says law firm owner, Udaya Menon. “Back in the 90s when I had just entered the field, Coimbatore had very few lady lawyers, just six if I remember correctly,” says Udaya when asked about why she chose to establish a firm with only women lawyers. “It was very difficult for me to explain at home why I had to spend so much time with my male colleagues!” Also, she was inspired by Indu Malhotra, one of the five women designated by the Supreme Court as Senior Advocate.

Empathy with women

In 2000, Menon’s dream finally materialised when she set up her law firm with Revathi Rajesh and Kannamma Selvaraj. “Being in this law firm meant I could continue being a lawyer even after my marriage,” says Kanamma. The firm is frequently approached by women clients who find it more comfortable to share their grievances with other women. One of their prominent cases came to them in 2007 when Dr. Padmini Nagrajan (name changed) came to them for help.

A victim of domestic violence, Padmini had spent one and a half years locked into a room by her husband in her own hospital. He cut off the electricity supply, the telephone lines and the water and gas supply to the room. Padmini finally managed to escape. For three months she shuttled between police station and court trying to file a complaint against her husband. It was with help from Udaya and a direction from the high court, that she finally managed to register a case under Protection for Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA) and various other sections. Padmini recalls, “Udaya told me that filing a case under the act would be the only way to ensure speedy disposal of the case. She helped me find immediate relief by representing my case.” As per the Act, there is provision to dispose of cases within 60 days.

The advocates however are firm when they say their profession is law and not feminism. “I might prefer working with women, but I do not believe in any sort of a gender bias when it comes to clients,” says Udaya.

For men too

She cites examples of how they have also represented men who have been falsely implicated by their wives. That is sad, says Somi Rejnish another advocate. “While the law has helped destitute women, in the last few years there has been a rise in such incidents of misuse.”

The women lawyers believe that the need of the hour is to spread legal awareness about these issues, especially in villages where people still tend to be gullible. “They simply do as they are told and a lawyer could easily take advantage of their ignorance” says Somi.

The firm has started a legal aid clinic to spread legal awareness and these services are free and are available to the ‘deserved and destitute’.

Spreading awareness

“We are trying to reach these people through organisations such as Rotary Clubs. Recently we held one such session in Thudiyalur village,” says Kannamma. They plan on conducting these legal awareness workshops in various schools and colleges as well. The firm has also taken up and concluded a large number of cases, pro bono. Women stripped of their wealth and support, frequent this firm. Some are victims of money laundering schemes and some of dowry harassment or domestic violence. They come here to find respite. And, the seven-women army stands poised to do battle for them.

They may not beat their drums very loud, but they ensure that the gavel strikes to serve justice.

I might prefer working with women, but I do not believe in any sort of a gender bias when it comes to clientsUdaya Menon

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