Indore: Fewer than one-third of judges in the lower judiciary--district courts and below--in 17 of 34 states and union territories in India are female, according to a February 2018 analysis by the New Delhi-based legal think tank, Vidhi Center For Legal Policy.

Women comprise 48.5% of the general population, and the domination of men in the lower judiciary, the frontline of the judicial system, might reduce courts’ legitimacy as representative of the societies they serve.

The inclusion of women in the judiciary enables courts to understand the real-world implications of their rulings, and reduces barriers to women’s access to justice, such as stigma associated with reporting violence and abuse, the report said. It could also signal “equality of opportunity for women in the legal profession and an appointments process that is merit-based, fair, and non-discriminatory”.

The Vidhi analysis used names of judges as reported on court websites between March and July 2017.

Female judges make up less than one-third of the Indian lower judiciary
Gender Composition In Lower Judiciary
Gender of judges Total Number Percentage
Male 11,397 71.40%
Female 4,409 27.60%
Unknown 153 1%
Total 15,959 100%

Source: Tilting the scale, gender imbalance in the lower judiciary, Vidhi center for legal policy

Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Dadra and Nagar Haveli had no female judges. Bihar, with 11.5% of all its lower courts judges female, had the lowest proportion of women judges in the lower judiciary of all states analysed, followed by Jharkhand (13.9%), Gujarat (15.1%) and Jammu and Kashmir (18.6%).

The highest proportion of women judges in the lower judiciary was in Meghalaya (73.8%), followed by Goa (65.9%) and Sikkim (64.7%).

Source: Tilting the scale, gender imbalance in the lower judiciary, Vidhi center for legal policy

The proportion of female judges is lower at the level of the district judge than at lower levels, the analysis showed. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, 42.1% of civil judges (junior division) were female compared to 13.6% of district judges.

Lack of data on gender diversity in Indian judiciary

If there were fewer female civil judges (junior division) in 1995 than now, fewer women judges would currently occupy higher posts in the lower judiciary, since higher posts are mostly filled through promotion from civil judges (junior division), the report explained.

More Women At Lower Levels of the Judiciary in India
State Tier Total Number of Judges Percentage of Women Judges
Andhra Pradesh District Judge 105 24.76%
Civil Judge (Senior Division) 120 34.16%
Civil Judge (Junior Division) 290 44.13%
Others 41 26.82%
Assam Grade I32 73 27.39%
Grade II 69 33.33%
Grade III 115 48.69%
Others 28 25%
Madhya Pradesh District Judge 359 13.65%
Civil Judge (Senior Division) 438 18.95%
Civil Judge (Junior Division) 422 42.18%
Others 32 6.25%
Rajasthan District Judge 326 14.42%
Civil Judge (Senior Division) 276 32.97%
Civil Judge (Junior Division) 289 36.68%
Others 71 15.49%
West Bengal District Judge 246 16.26%
Civil Judge (Senior Division) 147 21.76%
Civil Judge (Junior Division) 287 43.20%
Others 35 17.14%
Gujarat District Judge 218 10.60%
Civil Judge (Senior Division) 272 18.40%
Civil Judge (Junior Division) 442 15.60%
Others 47 4.25%
Tamil Nadu District Judge 182 35.16%
Civil Judge (Senior Division) 280 35.71%
Civil Judge (Junior Division) 414 37.68%
Others 77 40.25%
Uttarakhand District Judge 40 20%
Civil Judge (Senior) Division 44 27.27%
Civil Judge (Junior) Division 73 53.42%
Others 27 14.81%
Himachal Pradesh District Judge 29 6.89%
Civil Judge (Senior) Division 31 22.58%
Civil Judge (Junior) Division 49 42.86%
Others - -
Telangana District Judge 80 28.75%
Civil Judge (Senior Division) 70 45.71%
Civil Judge (Junior Division) 177 51.98%
Others 25 32%

Source: Tilting the scale, gender imbalance in the lower judiciary, Vidhi center for legal policy

“Differences in the gender balance between these tiers may also hint at potential bias in

promotional processes,” the report said. “Given that men and women are equally meritorious, in the absence of discrimination, one would assume that the proportion of women judges will remain the same from the lowest to the higher tiers, for any given batch of judicial officers.”

However, without information on the number of women graduating from law school, applying for judicial positions, and promotions over the years, it is difficult to understand the reasons behind the gender imbalance in the lower judiciary or the changes in the gender composition over time.

For the report, data on judges in the lower judiciary was collected from websites of different courts across states, and the gender of the judges determined on the basis of their prefix, and by using, a database of names from across the world.

“There are no systematic efforts to regularly compile and publish even basic data on the proportion of women judges in different levels of Indian courts,” the report said. It is especially challenging to understand the composition of the lower judiciary given the large numbers of districts and judges and unavailability of nationwide statistics, the report explained.

“The judiciary is notorious for the lack of data… we had to call several times to even find out information about reservation policies for women in the judiciary in different states,” said Nitika Khaitan, research fellow at the judicial reform initiative at the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy.

Women underrepresented in the higher judiciary

The Supreme Court and High Courts are the ‘higher judiciary’, while District Courts and below are the ‘lower’ or ‘subordinate’ judiciary.

Women are underrepresented even as higher levels in the judiciary. Since the Indian Supreme Court was established in 1950, it has had only six women judges, and currently has one woman judge out of 25. Across India’s 24 High Courts, a little more than 10% judges are women, with not even a single woman judge in eight High Courts, the report found.

(Khaitan is a writer/editor with IndiaSpend.)

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