Bar code missing
K R Rajeev,TNN | Jan 12, 2014, 06.06 AM IST
Anima Murayath has battled chauvinism before. The women’s hostel of the Government Law College in Kozhikode, where she stayed as a student, was “protected” by the male students. “They had decided that that the warden should lock the gate from outside by 6.30 pm to ‘protect the girls’ . We had to fight to force the authorities to extend the hostel timings.” Murayath’s latest rebellion against sexism , however, has become a far more public affair. The 24-year-old advocate’s Facebook post about the inappropriate behaviour of her male colleagues at the Calicut Bar Association so infuriated the legal establishment that she was suspended from the membership of the bar association for a month.
Barely seven months into her career, she is stuck with the dubious distinction of being the first lawyer ever to be suspended for a Facebook post. But Murayath does not regret her post. “I stand by whatever I have mentioned in the post and don’t intend to withdraw it. I will be compelled to file a suit against the disciplinary action in court because this could have an adverse effect on my career,” she says.
Seven months ago, Murayath had walked into the 127- year old Calicut Bar Association, fresh out of law school and with a deep sense of pride. So it was with some shock that she heard her male colleagues casually use offensive and flirtatious innuendos while talking to women lawyers. She chose to vent on Facebook, with liberal lashings of blunt humour and without taking names. But in the tight legal fraternity the references must have made quite a few men uncomfortable. The post read: “It is now five months since I started practising at the Calicut Bar. I do not know if all work spaces in the world are like this. But I have met many silly (male) colleagues my age at the Bar and in office who address women as ‘Sugar candy’ , ‘Dear’ and follow them around with comments such as ‘You are so beautiful’ — just like Prem Nazeer did in old Malayalam films. It seems to me these men don’t even watch new films. This is the same old attitude — making women either ‘sisters’ or lovers by ‘caring’ for them or ‘keeping’ them. My sympathies to all these silly persons I have met in the last five months.”
The lawyer says she deliberately chose Facebook to raise the issue because it would be a private communication but still have the desired effect because the men in question would notice it.
Instead, the Bar Association reacted to the post, first issuing her a show-cause notice and then suspending her on the ground that ‘the comments appeared to be made intentionally so as to bring insult, contempt and shame to the Association and legal profession as a whole’ . On Friday when the Bar Association met to discuss the issue, Murayath refused to apologise. A group of advocates then reportedly rushed towards her, abusing her and even flung a chair in her direction. Another lawyer, PK Nirmala , who spoke in support of of her, was injured in the melee. The association then, almost unanimously , approved her suspension.
That the atmosphere in courtrooms is sexualized was pointed out by additional solicitor general Indira Jaising in an open letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India soon after the case of an intern being sexually harassed by a former SC judge came to light. She had pointed out that junior women lawyers often face sexual harassment by senior lawyers ‘thanks to the conspiracy of silence around the issue among peers’.
It’s that silence from the executive committee of the Bar Association, comprising eminent lawyers, that has upset Murayath the most. “The association didn’t care to address the real issue, and instead suspended me from membership without even a hearing,” she says.
The daughter of teacher parents, Murayath who graduated in chemistry from St Joseph’s College, Kozhikode, says she picked a career in law because “like politics, it allows ample space for social interventions” . She says she will not give up the fight. “At a time when the whole country is discussing and creating laws to address issues faced by women in society and at the workplace, it is shocking that the Bar Association is denying me even the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression,” she says. As per the suspension order, Murayath is barred from entering the Bar Association premises or using its facilities such as the canteen. “I don’t mind eating lunch in staff rooms or in vacant court halls. But the larger issues relating to women in workplaces cannot be sidelined. I will be glad if this incident brings to light how male-dominated the workplace in Kerala is,” she says.