Much of Jaising’s work, I muse, has been tinged with activism. So I ask what she thinks can be done to improve the condition of the judiciary.
She tastes the delicately baked paneer with smoked eggplant that she has ordered before answering. “Given the current fear that the government is going to appoint judges who were in line with its ideology, there should be full disclosure in Parliament about the details of every judge appointee,” she says. In fact, she has been fighting corruption from within the judiciary
since 1989, when she challenged the appointment of Justice V Ramaswami to the Supreme Court
of India. When he became the first judge to be removed, many within the legal fraternity believed that by exposing corruption in court, Jaising was weakening its authority. “The causes I have taken up since have been equally unpopular,” she says unapologetically. “Professionally, I’m a bit of an outcast...”
It has been worth it. As we ponder over dessert, Jaising tells me about the many cases she has fought that have resulted in better judicial and police practices. “Of these, the most tragic was the case of a 10-year-old who became pregnant after being raped,” she narrates. The child didn’t comprehend her condition until it was too late for a legal abortion, so she had to carry the baby to term. “It was almost too much to bear to see the child undergo this, but I was able to ensure that the court took care of her medical expenditure, education and nutrition,” she says. Her latest initiative is The Leaflet, launched in June this year as an imprint of the NGO Lawyers Collective
(co-founded by Jaising and her husband Anand Grover). “It’s a platform for cutting-edge legal, political and constitutional opinion that I’m personally funding,” she says. “To mainstream legal opinion, which I think is critical today, we need to decode it for public consumption, and that’s exactly what we aim to do.”
Dessert, a giant helping of daulat ki chaat
and a bowl of homemade vanilla bean ice cream, arrives. It’s altogether too much food on a working day, she declares with delight. The milky, frothy confection melts in the mouth as Jaising talks of her pet project, a smile transforming her face. Some years ago, she found her junior in a distracted mood, constantly staring out of the window of the chamber. It turned out that she didn’t have child care arrangement that day and had no option but to ask her little daughter and her nanny to wait for her in the garden of the Supreme Court.
Jaising insisted on the child being brought in, but realised this was no solution. “I realised that we often talk of the need to have more women in the workplace, but often don’t make a conscious effort to enable this,” she says. With some cajoling and lobbying, Jaising was able to get a crèche set up in the Supreme Court
premises. “Today, it is a joyous bright space which enables mothers to work knowing their children are well looked after,” she says. “To our delight, even the male lawyers have started bringing their children here.”
Jaising is due in court shortly, but issues a warm invitation to visit the crèche before leaving. As her upright frame in lawyerly black and white attire disappears from view, I reflect that all these years, I’ve admired Jaising for the landmark cases she’s so successfully argued in court. Going forward, I’ll remember her as the woman who made Supreme Court
a kinder place for women to work in and in doing so, feminised it just a little.