As a legal services professional and high court mediator based in Mumbai, I find great inspiration in the remarkable journey of Cornelia Sorabji. Her story exemplifies courage, perseverance, and an unwavering commitment to justice. It is my privilege to shed light on her extraordinary accomplishments, which not only paved the way for women in the legal profession but continue to empower women worldwide.
Breaking Barriers: Triumph in the Face of Adversity:
Cornelia Sorabji shattered societal expectations and left an indelible mark as the first woman to graduate from Mumbai University. In the late 1800s, prevailing gender biases posed significant challenges, yet Cornelia fearlessly pursued a law degree at Oxford University in England, becoming the first Indian woman to embark on this transformative journey. Her unwavering determination and resilience are an inspiration to us all.
Overcoming Obstacles: Championing Justice in a Male-Dominated Field:
Returning to India after her studies, Cornelia Sorabji encountered immense opposition from male lawyers who resisted the idea of women practicing law. However, undeterred by these challenges, she tenaciously pursued her passion for justice. In the year 1894, she made history by securing admission to practice law in the Bombay (now Mumbai) High Court, setting a precedent for future generations of women in the legal profession.
Advocacy for the Marginalised: Upholding the Rights of Women and Children:
Cornelia Sorabji dedicated her legal career to advocating for marginalised women and children, tirelessly working to improve their legal rights. She took on significant challenges and fought against social norms to create a more just society. Her pioneering advocacy continues to inspire women globally, urging them to assert their rights and challenge prevailing societal norms.
Transformative Landmark Cases: Redefining the Course of Justice:
Among Cornelia’s most notable cases was the defense of Rukhmabai, a courageous child bride who defied societal expectations by refusing to live with her husband. In court, Cornelia fearlessly represented Rukhmabai, invoking provisions such as Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code to argue for her right to refuse marriage. This groundbreaking case shattered patriarchal norms and empowered countless women to resist forced marriages.
Case Name: R vs. Rukhmabai
Judge: Justice Pinhey (Judgement day: March 9, 1888)
Sections Used: Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code
Another pivotal case was that of Gulab Bai, a widow unjustly denied her rightful inheritance. Cornelia fought passionately for Gulab Bai’s rights under the Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, citing provisions like Section 14(1) and Section 14(2). Through her unwavering dedication and legal acumen, Cornelia secured a significant victory that marked progress for women’s property rights in India.
Case Name: Gulab Bai Case
Judge: Justice Batty (Judgement day: July 27, 1903)
Sections Used: Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act – Section 14(1) and Section 14(2) for her claim – right to inherit her husband’s Property
Fearless Defense of Rights: Protecting Women Accused of Crimes:
Cornelia Sorabji fearlessly defended numerous women facing grave charges, ensuring that their rights were upheld within the framework of the law. One notable case involved Saraswati Bai, who was accused of murdering her husband. Drawing on the provisions of Section 96 of the Indian Penal Code, Cornelia skillfully argued Saraswati Bai’s self-defense claim, leading to her acquittal. Through her tireless pursuit of justice, Cornelia challenged biased narratives surrounding women accused of crimes, safeguarding their rights.
Case Name: The State Vs Saraswati Bai
Judge: Justice R B Khandekar (Judgement day: 15 October 1900)
Sections Used: Section 96 of the Indian Penal Code
Leaving a Lasting Legacy: Inspiring Future Generations:
Cornelia Sorabji’s achievements are nothing short of remarkable, considering the immense challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominated profession. She had to navigate prejudice, discrimination, and societal barriers. Nevertheless, her unwavering determination and groundbreaking accomplishments paved the way for generations of women in the legal profession today.
Cornelia Sorabji’s extraordinary journey as India’s first female lawyer and advocate for women’s rights stands as a testament to the power of resilience and dedication. She challenged societal norms, broke through gender barriers, and fought tirelessly for justice. As a legal services professional, I am inspired by her unwavering commitment to equality and the lasting impact she has made. Cornelia Sorabji continues to inspire women around the world to pursue their dreams, assert their rights, and create a more equitable society for all.
Agarwal, B., Goyal, R., & Chandra, A. (2010). India’s First Women Lawyers: Stories of Law, Gender, and Social Change.
Gooptu, S. (2012). Cornelia Sorabji: India’s Pioneer Woman Lawyer.
Lamba, R. (2017). Cornelia Sorabji: India’s First Female Advocate.
Schofield, V. (2019). The Pioneer: Cornelia Sorabji and Women’s Rights in India.
Disclaimer: The following response is provided for educational purposes only by Adv Praful S Potdar. The content aims to shed light on the inspirational journey of Cornelia Sorabji and her significant contributions to women’s rights in India. This response does not constitute legal advice or any endorsement of specific legal cases, and readers are encouraged to seek professional legal counsel for their individual situations.