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Cornelia Sorabji – A Trailblazing Woman

15-11-2017 12:30 PM | Lathika Saju | My Indian Dream


Cornelia Sorabji – A Trailblazing Woman | My Indian Dream

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India’s first woman advocate is honoured by Google

Cornelia Sorabji was a woman of substance who broke the glass ceiling for female law practitioners in India. She notched several firsts - the first woman to graduate from Bombay University, the first Indian woman to read law at Oxford, and the first woman to become an advocate in India.

Today, on her 151st birth anniversary, Google Doodle pays tribute to her. Jasjyot Singh Hans created the doodle with Sorabji in front of the Allahabad High Court, where she started her career as pleader.

 Cornelia was born in Nashik of colonial India in 1866. Her parents Reverend Sorabji Karsedji and Francina Ford were advocates of women's education and established several girls' schools in Pune. With their support and encouragement, Cornelia took up higher studies and went on to become the first woman to be graduated from Bombay University.

At a time when universities were reluctant to accept female students, Cornelia managed to find a place at the Oxford University. She took up law and with the help of her English friends who petitioned on her behalf to allow her to sit for Civil Laws exam at Somerville College, Oxford, she completed the course in 1894. However, she didn’t get a degree as Oxford University started awarding degrees to women only since 1922.

She returned to India, but women were not allowed to plead in courts. She then became a legal advisor for purdanashins, the veiled women who were forbidden to interact with men outside their families. She helped widowed purdahnashins get their rightful share of the property, helped them to get themselves educated and become independent by securing employment. She succeeded in pursuing the government to appoint Lady Assistants to the courts to help women litigants.

To obtain a law degree, she appeared for LLB examination in Bombay University and became the first woman to graduate from the institution. She cleared the pleader examination in Allahabad High Court in 1899 but she was not acknowledged as a barrister.

It was only in 1923 when colonial courts opened their doors to women advocates,  Cornelia began practicing in Kolkata. In addition to pleading for her clients, she was persistent in her efforts to  fight bias and male domination in courts. She has published two autobiographies India Calling: The Memories of Cornelia Sorabji, and India Recalled, a biography of her parents, and numerous articles on Purdahnashins.



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