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First woman Judge of Supreme Court: Justice M. Fathima Beevi

First woman Judge of Supreme Court: Justice M. Fathima Beevi

Born on April 30, 1927, in Pathanamthitta, amidst the era of the Kingdom of Travancore, Justice M. Fathima Beevi emerged as an extraordinary force that would reshape the course of India's judicial landscape. Daughter of Annaveettil Meer Sahib and Khadeeja Beevi, hailing from the Rowther Family, she inherited a legacy of courage and determination. Her father, a humble clerk in the sub-registrar's office, nurtured the aspirations of his six daughters, drawing inspiration from sub-registrars who instilled knowledge in their own children. It was through her father's unwavering belief in education that Justice M. Fathima Beevi embarked on a transformative journey, etching her name in the annals of history.

From the corridors of Town School and Catholicate High School in Pathanamthitta, she soared to new heights, earning a coveted BSc degree in chemistry from the prestigious University College, Thiruvananthapuram. Undeterred by the prevailing gender norms, she fearlessly pursued her passion for justice, obtaining an LLB degree from Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram.

Armed with her legal acumen, Justice M. Fathima Beevi embarked on a stellar career, commencing as an Advocate on November 14, 1950, mere days after the adoption of the Indian constitution. Her brilliance illuminated the legal sphere as she secured the top rank in the Bar Council exam, an unprecedented achievement for a woman in those times. Launching her legal practice in the lower judiciary of Kerala, she honed her skills for seven remarkable years in Quilon. In May 1958, she soared to new heights as she was appointed a Munsiff Magistrate, marking the inception of her indomitable rise through the ranks of the esteemed Kerala Subordinate Judicial Services. Successive promotions followed, propelling her from a Subordinate Judge in 1968 to the exalted position of Chief Judicial Magistrate in 1972. The pinnacle of her judicial career arrived in 1974 when she ascended to the esteemed position of District & Sessions Judge.

Demonstrating her multidimensional legal prowess, she was appointed as the Judicial Member of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal in January 1980, leaving an indelible mark on the realm of tax law. A beacon of justice, her unwavering commitment to upholding the principles of equity and fairness propelled her to greater heights.

During a pivotal juncture of constitutional evolution, Justice M. Fathima Beevi's brilliance illuminated the High Court of Kerala, as she was elevated as an additional Judge on August 4, 1983. Her astuteness and integrity resonated with the legal fraternity, leading to her permanent appointment as a Judge on May 14, 1984. The High Court became the canvas upon which she wielded the brush of justice, leaving an indelible imprint on the legal landscape.

Yet, her illustrious journey was destined for even grander horizons. The Supreme Court beckoned, and on October 6, 1989, Justice M. Fathima Beevi embarked on a historic odyssey, becoming the first woman to grace the hallowed halls of India's apex court. Her appointment, even after retirement, spoke volumes about her exceptional legal acumen and unrivaled contributions to the realm of justice. For over two and a half years, her wisdom and unwavering commitment to upholding the Constitution resonated within the Supreme Court, leaving an enduring legacy.

Not content with mere judicial brilliance, Justice M. Fathima Beevi donned new roles, embracing the responsibility of governance. As the Governor of Tamil Nadu, assuming office on January 25, 1997, she astutely navigated the realm of politics and policy, leaving an indelible impact on the state's trajectory. In her role as the Chancellor of Madras University, she championed the cause of education and intellectual enlightenment, recognizing its transformative power.

Her pursuit of justice extended beyond the courtroom and halls of governance. As the chairperson of the Kerala Commission for Backward Classes, she championed the rights of marginalized communities, fighting for social justice and inclusivity. Furthermore, her membership in the National Human Rights Commission exemplified her unwavering commitment to safeguarding the fundamental rights and dignity of all individuals.

Her remarkable contributions were honored and acknowledged with numerous accolades, including honorary D. Litt. and Mahila Shiromani awards in 1990. The Bharat Jyoti Award illuminated her path, recognizing the brilliance she exuded throughout her illustrious career.

Justice M. Fathima Beevi's pioneering footsteps paved the way for a new era of women in the judiciary. Since her groundbreaking tenure, a select group of exceptional women—Justice Sujata V Manohar, Justice Ruma Pal, Justice Gyan Sudha Misra, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, Justice R. Banumathi, Justice Indu Malhotra, Justice Indira Banerjee, Justice Hima Kohli, Justice B.V. Nagarathna, and Justice Bela M. Trivedi—have followed in her footsteps, breaking through the glass ceiling of the Supreme Court. Notably, the astute and visionary Justice B.V. Nagarathna is poised to become the first woman Chief Justice of India, a testament to the enduring legacy of Justice M. Fathima Beevi.

Her journey serves as a beacon of inspiration, illuminating the path for future generations of trailblazing women to forge their destinies and overcome formidable challenges. Justice M. Fathima Beevi's resolute spirit, unwavering dedication, and unyielding pursuit of justice embody the very essence of empowerment and resilience. Her transformative legacy stands as a testament to the power of perseverance, forever etching her name in the annals of Indian jurisprudence.

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