Creatively Feminist: Lawyers talk

The Creatively Feminist column is a platform for artists to pen down (or illustrate) their perspectives on feminism vis-à-vis art. Emma Duncan, editor of 1843, draws an analogy between The Economist and 1843 – there are two ways of looking at the world: one is to focus on the shape of the wood (The Economist), and the other is to look at individual trees (1843).

Side-tracking from our usual path, we’re going with the latter option to focus on three intelligent and successful female lawyers in the media and entertainment space in India, and their thoughts on feminism. Here’s what Anushree Rauta (founder of IPRMENT Law), Priyanka Khimani (partner at Anand and Anand & Khimani), and Manojna Yeluri, (founder of Artistik License) had to say about feminism.

Most notions about feminism are misguided and misconceived. Being a feminist is not about being biased towards women or tackling women’s rights issues with a binary thought process. It is about propagating equality without gender discrimination, standing against sexual objectification, and making right the historical wrongs.

I have been a media and entertainment lawyer for nearly eight years. Unlike legal counsel practice (litigation), which is still a male dominated practice, I can proudly say that the media and entertainment space has an outstanding number of female lawyers who have done exceptionally well in their careers.

To name a few, Madhu Gadodia (my mentor and equity partner, Naik Naik & co), Gowree Gokhale (partner, Nishith Desai & Associates), Monica Datta (partner, Sai Krishna & Associates), Vandita Malhotra Hegde (partner, Singh Singh Malhotra & Hegde), Chandrima Mitra (partner, DSK Legal), and Priyanka Khimani (partner, Anand and Anand & Khimani) are all outstanding, self-made media lawyers.

However, with respect to counsel practice, a lot needs to change in India. For instance, if you look at the list of designated senior advocates in the Bombay High Court, less than 10 out of 163 senior advocates are women. There is still a wide gap in the male to female lawyers’ ratio, and this needs to change.

While the judiciary is witnessing a change with more women judges occupying important positions, it is still unfortunate to see that in sixty-seven years since the Supreme Court’s inception, there have only been six women judges. It would only be fair that for judgments on issues such as triple talaq, the forum would have female representation as well.

It’s not that efforts aren’t being made. In 2013, Justice Mukul Mudgal’s committee recommended that the Cinematograph Bill, 2013, include a provision where at least a third of the CBFC members must be women. The increase in reports of sexual harassment in the media industry has resulted in workplaces becoming more vigilant in implementing anti-sexual harassment measures.

In my view, there is a pressing need to transform the mindset of the society. It is embarrassing that even in 2018, women have to fight for equality, for women empowerment, against injustice and sex discrimination. We still have issues as seen prior to release of Padmaavat, where certain regressive elements in the society had the audacity to disrespect a renowned female actress, in the garb of protecting the image of a queen, whom some believe to have been fictional. Society needs to evolve with time and historic wrongs need to be corrected, otherwise we will never truly progress.

Anushree Rauta

Every now and then, I hear a lot of corridor talk about how I’ve been so fortunate to see, “this kind of success,” in such a short span of time. And come to think of it… it has only been a little over five years since I qualified to practice as a lawyer.

People today see the glamour associated with representing and advising some of the biggest stars in the country. However, what people fail to remember is the decade of struggle that went behind making that happen. They didn’t live through the numerous failures and heartbreaks, all that constant self-doubt each time you didn’t get a call back from the producer or the agency, having to deal with your own insecurities and shortcomings, and all of this mixed with the daunting burden of having to make ends meet just to make sure you could get by each day.

But like they say, what doesn’t break you, only makes you stronger. And stronger it made me. When you see the kind of constant failure and rejection that I did during my teenage years (read: the regular corroding of every shred of self-confidence), there’s very little that can get you down. Even today, in my worst moments, I remind myself that if I survived THAT, then this too shall pass.

My greatest validation, however, comes from seeing the extent to which the tables have turned.  Many who have heard my story are often curious to know what it’s like to be a female lawyer in the entertainment industry and my answer is a constant one – Empowering! The industry is a place where I might have experienced my biggest failures, but it’s also the same industry that has given me the means today to fulfil my ambitions, and I will be forever grateful for that.

I won’t deny that I’ve also made my own share of gutsy moves to make this happen; from shamelessly asking an ex-Miss Universe if I could represent her (she readily said yes, by the way), to not taking no for an answer in the most unusual cases, and to standing up to bullies (male and female) within the profession.

On feminism

Two weeks ago, I was at a law school chairing a panel discussion on gender issues that plague millennials. The words ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ were loosely thrown around as they must in a conversation of this nature. I sat there listening, with growing concern, at some of the extreme, borderline fanatic ideas of feminism described by these young ladies.

A lot of it, of course, came from a place of naivety. I could sense the resentment and shock when I proclaimed that I wasn’t a feminist (certainly, not the brand that my audience seemed to be) and explained my bit about how a staunch, uninformed view like that can be quite disconnected from ground reality.

It is one thing to be an idealist (or an extreme feminist, as was the case with this group of young students) but a whole other thing to be able to appreciate how disconnected our real world can be from some of these radical thoughts and ideas. I am, therefore, a realist, determined to find a balance of these feminist thoughts, but in a manner that makes it palatable to other groups of individuals around us.

Perhaps this little incident that occurred right after I left the law school premises and headed to the Pune District Court for one of my matters, will help clarify my point:

It was only a matter of coincidence that one of the firm’s matters happened to be listed before the Pune District Court on the same day as my talk, and I offered to tend to the matter myself along with our local advocate. For those of you unfamiliar with practice in lower courts, it is an experience to brace yourself for. And if you are as low on tolerance towards incompetence, bureaucracy, and inefficiency as I am, then good luck! It is also a rarity to spot too many female advocates in district courts, let alone someone who has specially come down for a matter from a bigger city. I was once in the Lucknow District Court where I came close to whacking a male advocate with my heavy four-flap folder for grabbing my ass as I tried to get through the security checkpoint at the gate.

Naturally, therefore, as I walked into the court premises, I could instantly feel the gaze of a hundred pairs of eyes on me – from handcuffed accused being escorted by local cops to court associates and other people simply waiting for their matters to be called out (they probably seemed to have spotted an alien amongst themselves in broad daylight). But the tip of the iceberg was when a male advocate (definitely not much older than me) took the liberty of letting out a sleazy sigh and whispering lustfully into my ear, “ohhh myeee gwadddd,” as I tried to walk past him to get to my courtroom.

So much for all the discussion on feminism and gender issues at workplace talk that I’d just had moments ago at a law school! His lewd comment was successfully converted into a, “I am very sorry, ma’am” (I admit that the panel before may have gotten the adrenaline pumping). However, I wish I could’ve had those young bunch of girls from that law school there with me to witness that moment to realise the point I was making about realistic feminism.

I said it then and I’ll say it here again – we need to tackle this issue bearing in mind the unique circumstances of our country. Insofar as mindset and attitude are concerned, our society is still light-years behind the western world. To try to take a leap and match that without addressing this issue is only going to make you land in a pit of nothingness. What good is all that feminist talk if it can’t change the male gaze of that lawyer in the district court and let a female lawyer, no matter from which part of the country, walk comfortably down the corridors of court and carry on with her vocation?

But I am an eternal optimist too, and I’m confident that many small steps at the grass root level will someday ensure that our coming generation will be more tolerant, less biased, and comfortable in their own skin to match footsteps with their female counterparts! Ohhh myeee gwadddd to that thought!

Priyanka Khimani

Integrity. Diversity. Creativity.

As a lawyer working with independent artists in India, I am sometimes faced with the nagging question – am I doing this right? Am I providing my clients, the best I can offer? Am I really helping the people I’m working with?

Lawyers are often thought of as these razor sharp, intense, almost intellectually superior cyborgs, capable of making practical decisions, devoid of sentiment.

I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, nor do I believe there is much merit to that approach.

I think it’s important to acknowledge the vulnerabilities, insecurities, and doubts we face as professionals, because that’s what keeps us connected to the human experience and the communities we work with. It’s in answering these questions that we find the need to innovate and share our learnings, in exchange for information and learning that we can’t always access.

We need to connect, share, and collaborate.

That’s probably the biggest lesson I have learnt from working with the creative community. We put a lot of emphasis on competition, without accepting the fact that there are diverse opinions, skills and experiences that can all have a seat at the same table. If the table isn’t large enough, then we ought to be thinking about a new seating arrangement – one that let’s everyone find their most comfortable space, to communicate their point of view.

Maybe that seating arrangement could be called feminism.

I believe that feminism refers to a number of different things, however in my understanding, the equal representation of diverse experiences lies at the core. In a world with shared economies, open source and open access to information, why must we still restrict our understanding of gender, gender roles, sexual orientation, sexuality and socio-political identities, to binaries and monochromes? To be a feminist, is to acknowledge the beauty and depth of the human experience, and to accept that there will be times when we do not always understand what lies before us, but that it shouldn’t stop us from trying anyway.

We see that in our art – the way we express ourselves. Art without integrity does not express, and art that doesn’t express, serves very little purpose. As a lawyer working with artists, I think that it is so important to adopt a methodology that takes into account the diversity and sincerity of the content creators I work with, else I remain disconnected to their purpose and ultimately, the essence of what they wish to protect.

Artistik License was born from this idea of connection and shared knowledge – the idea that we are on the same team. As much as I would love to see the creative industries flourish, I also hope to see them become more diverse – I hope to see venues welcome more genres of music in their programming, to see more women take up roles in production and sound engineering, and to see more stories from communities and languages we don’t often get to see or hear. Now is the time to get creative with our understanding of feminism, diversity, and inclusion.

Manojna Yeluri



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