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The British Common Wealth's first female judge

Updated: Apr 6, 2023




Anna Chandy (1905-1996) has many 'firsts' to her credit. She was India's first female judge, the first woman in the country to become a High Court judge and the first woman judge from the Commonwealth countries (which were mostly part of erstwhile British Empire).


Having lost her father soon after birth, she grew up in the midst of strong matrilineal traditions with her mother ably supporting the family. This had a decisive impact on her outlook on women.


For most of Anna's formative years, the Regent of Travancore was a woman- Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bai (1895-1985) -whose wave of women empowerment reforms also influenced Anna.


Anna completed her post-graduation in 1926 from Government Law College, Trivandrum, thus becoming the first woman in Kerala to obtain a law degree.


Besides being a lawyer, she was also a champion of women's rights. in 1930, she published 'Shrimati', the first women's magazine in Malayalam. She questioned misogynistic practices and stressed widow remarriage and women's freedom.


For her endeavours in bringing the issues of women to the forefront, she is touted as a 'first-generation feminist.'


Anna Chandy went on to become a barrister specializing in criminal law which raised many an eyebrow. An ignoramus Brahmin once insisted that Chandy had to be a man in women's clothing since, 'no woman could possibly argue cases with such ruthless igour.'


Slander was nothing new for Anna. One disgruntled colleague said,'if I also wore a blouse and sari, I would have won.'


In 1931, Anna Chandy contested the elections to the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly, an elected representative body of the State of Travancore. False allegations about her links with the Dewan of the state resulted in her defeat.


Despite her setback, the following year she contested the election again, won the seat in the assembly and served from 1932 to 1934.


In 1937, Sir C P Ramaswami Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore, appointed Chandy as a Munsif in Travancore, thereby making her the first female judge in India. Her unrelenting efforts led to the abolition of the statute that prevented women from working government jobs.


Her autobiography titled 'Atmakatha' was published in 1973.


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