Judge Rajeswari acknowledges the Chennai connect

Updated - November 16, 2021 05:07 pm IST

Published - May 03, 2015 04:07 am IST - CHENNAI

In this April 27, 2015 photo, newly appointed city judge, Chennai-born Raja Rajeswari, rises to take her place for a Judicial Swearing-In Ceremony at New York City Hall in New York.

In this April 27, 2015 photo, newly appointed city judge, Chennai-born Raja Rajeswari, rises to take her place for a Judicial Swearing-In Ceremony at New York City Hall in New York.

When she raised her hand to take the oath of office, Judge Raja Rajeswari, the first Indian woman to be appointed to a criminal court in New York, it was a symbolic gesture. It was a thumbs up for Indian women and immigrants in the U.S. And Chennai, the metro in which she grew up, took time to bask in the pride of watching its daughter dazzle the world.

And the daughter herself, who left home nearly 27 years ago, acknowledged the roots with a neat “Vanakkam”. “I grew up with The Hindu as a child in Chennai, so I would be honoured to speak to you about my life experiences,” she wrote back almost immediately. Her achievement today is admittedly beyond what she dreamt of, in her years living with her parents in a one-room house, in the city. But the possibility of success, she says, is within the reach of anyone who is willing to work hard in a country that believes in equal opportunity. “As an immigrant, you have incredible opportunities in this country but you have to be able and willing to work really hard to take advantage of them and you have to constantly prove yourself but that is par for the course for any immigrant from any ethnic background.”

Judge Raja Rajeswari’s story is all the more special because of the circumstances “I lived at Alwarpet and had a wonderful childhood growing up in Chennai, I was an only child and my mother, Padma Ramanathan, was a famous dancer and teacher..,” she recollects. Her father, Krishna Ramanathan, was an office manager. “I was fortunate to be brought up in an atmosphere where my parents taught me to respect everyone regardless of religion, caste or social standing.”

That grounding was to serve her well throughout, especially in her career in the U.S. It was sheer chance that took her to that nation, as a dancer in a cultural show in New York, and as she says, “I ended up staying in New York.” But she had decided to take the path to justice long ago, seeing her young woman friends being married off early. After qualifying as a lawyer in Brooklyn Law School, her career path took her onward, and during her years as Assistant District Attorney, she has worked extensively with putting sex offenders behind bars, helping women and child victims. “Until we deal with our ingrained social prejudices and end our discrimination of women in our society, we will never be able to achieve our true potential as a country, which I believe is truly limitless.”

She shares her incredible faith in the justice system: “The speed and equal access to justice administered here [the U.S] is something to take note of. While it’s not perfect, it is still much more efficient than the legal system in India.” In the end it is not about winning or losing cases, but to do the right thing.

“On my first day as an Assistant District Attorney, during my swearing-in, the late District Attorney William Murphy advised me that my job and challenge as a prosecutor was not to win or lose cases, but to do justice in every case. His words have stayed with me.”

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