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‘Mother of PILs’ Kapila Hingorani becomes first woman to have her portrait in SC library

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Hingorani was one of only three female lawyers practising in the Supreme Court in her time, and changed Indian jurisprudence by filing the first PIL in 1979.

New Delhi: The late Kapila Hingorani Tuesday became the first woman lawyer to have her portrait unveiled in the Supreme Court library in its 67-year history.

Popularly referred to as the ‘mother of Public Interest Litigations’ by Indian media, Hingorani practiced at the Supreme Court at a time when there were just two other women lawyers there. When she passed away on 30 December 2013, she was the senior-most woman lawyer enrolled with the SC.

Being one of the few female lawyers in the Supreme Court, Hingorani had to overcome a lot of prejudice from the legal fraternity before she was given the due recognition and respect for her work.

In fact, unveiling her portrait, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra remarked “this was long overdue”.

How she changed Indian jurisprudence

Hingorani’s most notable contribution to Indian law and society was the initiation of the unique remedial jurisprudence of PILs in India. In 1979, she was the first Indian to ever file and argue a PIL in the Supreme Court.

Her case lifted the veil on under-trial prisoners who were languishing in jail for long periods of time, which often exceeded the period of time they would have been in jail had they been tried, convicted, and even given maximum sentence.

Before her, as per prevailing laws, only a victim or relative could file a petition in court.

Two weeks after Hingorani argued the case in court, the SC issued a notice to the Bihar government, leading to the release of all the victims in the case, and eventually about 40,000 under-trials across the country.

This landmark case in India’s judiciary came to be known as the ‘Hussainara Khatoon case’.

Hingorani’s initiative triggered a revolution in the Indian legal system. She, her husband Nirmal Hingorani, and her children took up almost 100 pro-bono PILs.

PILs have, however, also become a contentious issue today, with CJI Misra dismissing several “frivolous” PILs, saying that “the PIL was originally conceived for the poor and marginalised”. Eminent jurist and former Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee, also said that a PIL was “not a pill for every ill”.

“The problems are, ‘private interest litigation, political interest litigation and publicity interest litigation that affects everyone including lawyers and judges’,” Sorabjee said.

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