Sudhanshubala Hazra

This is the not-so-very-well-known story of a unique woman who was one of the first few pioneers who created a new path for females in the legal profession in India.

She is Sudhanshubala Hazra - the adopted daughter of Utkala Gauraba Madhususudan Das.

Sudhanshubala & Sailabala, the daughters of Madhu Babu’s close friend from Bengal, were legally adopted as his daughters after the demise of their parents. Under the guardianship of the dynamic Madhu Babu -who was a superlative Barrister, a great statesman, a matchless leader and a visionary nationalist- the girls grew up in a socially & culturally progressive environment in Madhu Babu’s home in Cuttack. Madhu Babu’s acumen & charisma had earned him huge respect & administration both in India as well as in London’s legal & political circles. Deeply inspired by her father’s professional expertise and the broad outlook, Sudhanshubala aspired to pursue law as a career. But, the times then were way different and a lot more challenging than it is at present! As per the Legal Practitioners Act of 1879, women were not ‘recognized’/’considered’ as “persons” to be enrolled (for studies/education) as lawyers at that time, and also they were not allowed entry into the legal profession to practice law as a career!

While working as a teacher, and later as the headmistress at Ravenshaw Girls School in Cuttack, Sudhanshubala had started attending classes to earn a law degree and eventually pursue a career in law. With this in mind, she attempted the Bachelor of Law exam at Calcutta University in 1917; but, she was denied the chance by both Calcutta as well as the Patna Universities (although earlier, two more women prior to her had been allowed to take the same exam). She raised her voice against such blatant discrimination.

She took her stand and cited Cornelia Sorabji as an example to get herself enrolled. She also cited the British Sex Disqualification Removal Act 1919 to get the benefit but, in ‘In Re Miss Sudhansu Bala Hazra,’ the Patna High Court ruled that they were bounded by the Calcutta High Court’s reasoning regarding men as “persons” and barred her from enrolling.

On the Patna High Court bench were Chief Justice Dawson Miller, Justice B. Mullick, and Justice Jwala Prasad. She filed a petition in the Privy Council with the help of her father who was representing her in her appeal , her sister, and Mr. Hari Singh Gour- a lawyer, writer, and an eminent member of the Central Legislative Assembly.

But Dr Gour helped in withdrawing 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 home minister’s assurance, Madhu Babu (because of the considerable respect & admiration he garnered among the British as well as Indian administration) sent a petition to Viceroy Lord Reading on this matter- following which the Legal Practitioners’ Act was amended & passed in September, 1923.

Sudhanshubala was finally able to enroll as a lawyer in Patna.

Along with the iconic Cornelia Sorabji, her name should be forever remembered as one of the brave pioneers who paved a way for women in the later times to study & pursue a career in law!

REFERENCES:Various Sources

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