KENDRAPARA: Google Doodle on Wednesday honoured Cornelia Sorabji as India’s first female to practice law in 1924 on the occasion of her 151st birth anniversary. But was Cornelia really the first woman lawyer in the country? Researchers, however, disagree.
Noted researcher and member of Odisha Sahitya Akademi Dr Basudev Das of Kendrapada said Sudhanshubala Hazara, the adopted daughter of Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das of Odisha, became the first woman lawyer of the country after she joined Patna High Court in 1923.
“Sudhanshubala crossed several legal hurdles with the help of her adopted father Madhusudan Das, who was a great lawyer and one of the architects of Modern Odisha,” Das said.
Professor Nanda Kishor Parida, the former principal of Kendrapada College, informed that Sudhanshubala, a law graduate from Calcutta University, had applied in Patna High Court on October 29, 1921 seeking permission to be enrolled as a lawyer. On November 28, 1921, the Full Bench of Patna High Court pronounced in its judgment that a woman was not entitled to get a certificate under Indian Legal Practitioners’ Act to act as a lawyer because of her sex. Under the Legal Practitioners’ Act of 1879, women were debarred from practising in courts of the country, said Parida.
“Madhu babu was fighting the case for Sudhanshubala. He challenged the order of Patna High Court before the Privy Council which allowed his appeal,” Parida said.
With an aim to change the law, Madhu babu sought the help of an eminent member of Central Legislative Assembly Dr HS Gour to move a resolution to amend the Legal Practitioners’ Act. But Dr Gour withdrew the amendment on February 1, 1922 after the then home minister Sir William Vincent gave assurance to bring forth a well considered legislation in due time after consulting the High Courts.
Without resting upon the minister’s assurance, Madhusudan sent a petition to Viceroy Lord Reading on the matter following which the Legal Practitioners’ Act was amended in September, 1923.
Sudhanshubala was enrolled as the first female lawyer in Patna High Court on December 12 1923, Parida added.