NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Indian capital's High Court has sworn in its first female chief justice, the Indian Express reported on Tuesday, the first breach in a barrier that has led female lawyers to describe the upper levels of the judiciary as "an old boys' club".
The appointment of 59-year-old Justice Gorla Rohini comes at a time when the numerous reports of violence against women in the city of 16 million have caused alarm, and follows considerable debate about the lack of gender equality in India since the fatal gang rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012.
"This symbolises women’s empowerment and, of course, we need many more role models like her (Rohini), who can inspire young girls across the country to aspire to top positions in all walks of life," Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung was quoted as saying during Rohini's swearing-in ceremony.
Women's rights activists say patriarchal attitudes prevail in every sector of Indian society, including the political, police and judicial systems – which are all dominated by men and insensitive to women.
In January an Indian judge who called pre-marital sex "immoral" and against "the tenets of every religion" was attacked by activists who said his remarks highlighted gender insensitivity within the judiciary and the challenges faced by female victims of sex crimes seeking justice.
Judge Virender Bhat, who presides over a fast-track court dealing with sexual offences, made the remarks after ruling in one case that there was insufficient evidence that a man had duped a woman into having sex with him by promising marriage.
In another case in May 2012, a judge in the Bombay High Court said that married women should take a cue from the Hindu goddess Sita, who left everything to follow her husband Lord Rama to a forest for 14 years. The judge was hearing a divorce petition filed by a man on the ground that his wife was unwilling to relocate to his new place of work.