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The other unwelcome first-class passenger: A peek into the legendary life of Ashutosh Mukherjee

Viceroy Lord Curzon invited Sir Ashutosh to be a judge of the Calcutta High Court. He said we would accept the assignment if his mother permitted him to do so. With his mother’s green signal, he assumed judgeship in 1904 and remained a judge till 1923, even officiating as Chief Justice of Bengal in 1920. In those days, the colonial government was never in favour of native Indians holding such positions. As a judge, Sir Ashutosh had delivered about 20,000 judgments, many of which are still cited as examples of judicial craftsmanship. One of his decisions though sticks out as a sore thumb. India’s women lawyers would view this decision with scorn.

Jhuma Sen, in her article titled The Indian Women who fought their way Into the Legal Profession, published in The Wire, writes about this case. Regina Guha’s father Abhijit Guha was an established criminal lawyer in Calcutta. He had fallen in love with a Baghdadi Jew and converted to Judaism. Young Regina Guha, supported by her father, not only picked up a law degree in 1916, but attempted to enter the Bar to practice. Her application with the Alipore District Court was forwarded to the High Court and a special bench of five judges, which included Sir Ashutosh, heard the same. Regina’s case was presented by Barrister Eardley Norton, a civil rights advocate and a card carrying member of the Indian National Congress. Regina’s lawyer fell back upon the General Clauses Act to argue that as the definition of “male” is taken to include “female”, the Legal Practitioners Act when it referred to men included within its fold ‘women’ lawyers as well. Sir Ashutosh disagreed. He held “there was no escape from the position that the Legislature in this country never contemplated the admission of women to the rank of Legal Practitioners.”

Source: Barandbench

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