Everything is within your power, and your power is within you.
Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer. I was fortunate to be born into a very educated and liberal family. I was brought up by very fierce & independent parents and grandparents. I remember my mother always grilling this into my head, that she didn’t care if I got married or whether I had kids, but I needed to have a career, most essentially my own individuality. Having been brought up in such an environment, where there was no difference between my brother and me, I never thought that a woman would be less than a man in any field. I knew that only I was in charge of my life, and no one else could decide for me.
So I pursued my dream and studied law. I attended the best Schools and Colleges of the Country. Thereafter I started practicing in the Courts. My inclination was always towards criminal law. It always fascinated me. So when I expressed my desire to become a criminal lawyer, I faced a lot of opposition from people around me. People tried very hard to dissuade me by saying things like “you’ll have to deal with hardened criminals”, “it’s a man’s job”, “women don’t practice criminal law…become a corporate lawyer instead” etc. But the people who actually knew me, knew that I would never listen to anyone and would always do what I thought was right.
I still remember very clearly, during arguing my first bail matter. I was defending the accused in a sexual molestation case. Just five minutes before my arguments, my senior walked up to me and whispered in my ear, “Mahika, don’t worry. It’s tough for girls, so if you don’t get the relief, don’t be disheartened.” And I just stared back at him with a blank lackadaisical expression on my face. I didn’t give a damn. I argued vehemently in front of the Judge. The Judge passed favourable orders and appreciated my effort in open court.
There has been no hesitation and pause after that. I have been working independently and along with Senior Advocates. I have argued Criminal Appeals where offences were of murder, rape, narcotics etc. Nothing has ever deterred me. One interesting incident which I remember is a recent instance, when I had to argue in the High Court. It was a case of quashing an FIR in a sexual harassment case. I was requested to argue this matter by two of my colleagues, as it was a tough case and they were not confident enough. I readily agreed to help them. I argued vehemently. Finally the Judge heard me at length and quashed the FIR and gave a decision in my favour. Once I stepped out of the court, some people came and congratulated me, rest just looked. But the best reaction came from my colleagues who had asked for my help. This is what one of them had to say to me, “With such a pretty face and by fluttering your eyes at the Judge, anyone could have gotten relief. Not that you argued on law”. I was shocked, amazed, disgusted and appalled. I was so taken aback that such a dreadful comment had come from this man, who was my peer in age and educational. He was the one who had asked me for help. Why was he suddenly making such ridiculous statements? Was it because, he felt bested by a woman? Men have to learn to start accepting and respecting women as partners, competitors and colleagues.
Then there were instances when my colleagues said things like, “why criminal law, do some corporate law”, “why do you need to work... go get married, pamper yourself in the spa, let the men earn for you”. I have always found such annotations and commentaries very amusing.
I work for myself, I earn for myself and most importantly, I live for myself. This is my individuality and men around me will have to accept it. It is sad, that I hardly meet any female lawyers who practice criminal law. I would love to see more women taking it up. Its high time women realise that nobody gives you power, you have to take it.
About Mahika Varma
Mahika is a Lawyer who practices in the Supreme Court and High Court of Delhi and Himachal Pradesh. She has done her B LLB (Hons) from Faculty of Law, Delhi and BA (Hons) in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi University.