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Fathima Beevi was the first female judge of the Supreme Court of India who was appointed in 1989. She became an example for women all around as she was the first Muslim female to be appointed at the higher levels of judiciary. 

Early Life

She was born in Travancore to a Government servant. She did her early education in Travancore itself. Her father motivated her to study law. She was one of the five women in her class pursuing law. After obtaining her law degree, she topped her bar exam and became the first woman to do so. She received the Bar Council Gold Medal for the same.


She began her career at lower judiciary in Kerala and then joined Kerala Subordinate Judicial Services. She rose through ranks to become Subordinate Judge of Kerala (1968-72), Chief Judicial Magistrate (1972-74), District and Sessions Judge (1974-80), judicial member of Income Tax Appellant (1980-83), and Justice of Kerala High Court (1983). She was appointed a Supreme Court Justice in 1986. After her retirement from the Supreme Court, she served as Human Rights Commissioner and Chairman of Kerala Commission for Backward Class in 1993. She was appointed Governor of Tamil Nadu in 1997. She also served as the Chancellor of Madras University. There were also talks to nominate her for President of India.

Landmark Judgments

Schedule Caste & Weaker Section Welfare Assn. v. State of Karnataka

This case was related to limitations of statutory power. Here Justice Beevi held that it is provided by the Constitution that citizens must be protected against arbitrary authority by the State. Rule of natural justice must be used while checking such power.

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Assam Sillimanite Ltd. V. Union of India

It was an appeal to decide whether a State enactment was constitutionally valid or not. She held that the Court has power to examine the validity of any state enactment even if it has to implement directives mentioned in Article 39. This article cannot be used as a cloak.


Ramesh Hirachand Kundanmal v. Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay

She made an important observation about ‘Necessary Party’ under Order 1 Rule 10(2), Civil Procedure Code. Justice Fathima Beevi said “What makes a person a necessary party is not merely that he has relevant evidence to give on some of the questions involved; that would only make him a necessary witness. It is not merely that he has an interest in the correct solution of some question involved and has thought of relevant arguments to advance. The only reason which makes it necessary to make a person a party to an action is so that he should be bound by the result of the action and the question to be settled, therefore, must be a question in the action which cannot be effectively and completely settled unless he is a party.”



She was part of several controversies during her time as governor. She was highly criticized for electing Jayalalitha as the Chief Minister. She rejected the mercy petitions of four individuals involved in assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. As a chancellor, she was criticized as she did not give her approval for setting up a new department of Tamil literature.

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She was felicitated with Hon. D Litt and Mahila Shiromani Award in 1990. She also received the Bharat Jyoti Award and the US – India Business Council (USIBC) Life Time Achievement Award. In the field that is highly dominated by males, Justice Fathima Beevi’s journey should be applauded and celebrated. She was always vocal about patriarchy that existed in Indian Judiciary and the backlash that women who practice law usually face. She always spoke about the need for more women in higher judiciary. She also promoted the idea of having reservation of women in higher judiciary to meet this gap. Thus she is an inspiration for every female who wants to make the journey to that courtroom. She has permanently etched and carved her name in the stone of Indian Judiciary by being a female role model. 

2 Justice M Fathima Beevi Receiving D Litt Degree

By: Debarati Pal

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