The CCLS India Chapter Committee invited the CCLS community to join a Webinar and Q&A to celebrate International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day Celebration!
CCLS India Chapter, Queen Mary University of London hosted a webinar for celebrating International Women's Day. Ms. Jaswant Narwal, Chief Crown Prosecutor Thames and Chiltern, Crown Prosecution Services was the guest of honour and she shared her inspiring journey as a first generation brown lawyer in the United Kingdom (UK) and spoke about gender equity.
Mr. Ajit Mishra, CCLS India Chapter Head introduced Ms. Narwal and invited her to share her story. Ms. Narwal spoke about her background and the challenges she had to face on account of racism and sexism, which were much more prevalent back then. She expressed how she had to work hard to overcome overt discriminations faced as an Indian woman working in the UK. Ms. Narwal mentioned that even though she was born in the UK, she has always had a strong link to India.
Ms. Narwal spoke about how she was the only one from her family who went to University and her mother always provided love, warmth and compassion and was progressive for her time. Ms. Narwal fondly remembered how the male members of her family would always gather and talk about politics and she would try to get involved in the discussion as she was interested in politics, only to realise later that she was training to be a lawyer during those discussions. Ms. Narwal has shattered the patriarchy by being the first to move away from home, as well as the first person in the family to play hockey and doing what she liked from the very beginning.
She was called to the Bar in November 1993. Initially she was practicing shipping and commercial law, however, it did not interest her as much and then she moved towards criminal law, which allowed her to understand human behaviour and interaction. Ms. Narwal told the attendees that in the 90s, there used to be ghetto chambers, which were for the members called to the bar from different ethical background, however, her scholarship from the crown prosecution services helped her find the way.
Ms. Narwal also related her court experiences back in the day when women were expected to wear dress suits or skirt suits and any woman wearing a trouser suit would not be heard by the judges. She also mentioned about her first case as a crown prosecutor, which required her to prosecute a prostitute who pleaded guilty and was fined. Eventually, Ms. Narwal started dealing with all kinds of criminal cases relating to drugs, threats, robberies, homicide and became the senior crown prosecutor, which quickly put her up against people who did not support her.
Ms. Narwal also spoke about the Athwal Honour Killing case where they prosecuted an old woman who killed her daughter in law and another case where they prosecuted the father for the murder of 4 kids out of 6 as he posed a threat to his children. She also got threats for prosecuting such cases.
She also highlighted the challenges as a woman when she was posted to Lincolnshire in 2007; she had 2 young children, and her husband was at the time working as a freelance media person, so they moved with family to the area, which consisted of 99.9% white people at the time.
Ms. Narwal also urged women to be leaders and open doors for others. She mentioned that she coaches young women and acts as a role model to create a pipeline of talented women.
She said “I choose to define myself as a prosecutor and not as an Asian woman, I am a lawyer and I want to be known for my talents. I’ve had to smash all kinds of stereotypes and had to deal with white male bosses. I never got discouraged from setbacks, instead learnt from them and setbacks made me stronger. I’ve had to have a lot of uncomfortable conversations and I believe in embracing equity. Without equity, we cannot have true inclusion or equitable action. We need policies to recognise equitable action. For equity, the diverse lived experiences of different individuals have to be taken into account to build policies accordingly.”
She stated that now there are 50% women in crown prosecution and are doing well, around 30% judges are from diverse backgrounds, 39% of barristers are women. However, we have to first recognise and have the right data, look at the gender gap and ask the right questions like who are in top positions? How do you address the changes? She believes that the change can be introduced through practical pragmatic approach.
Ms. Narwal told the attendees that she always had to prove herself more because the general perception was that she is a token person. As women, she feels that we still have greater responsibilities towards family to overall take care of them.
After her inspirational talk, the floor was opened for questions and answers and one of the committee members, Ojasvita asked her how do you deal with the tokenisation? To which, Ms. Narwal replied that she used to get upset initially but she worked damn hard. She said that “a lot of it is about communication, networking and establishing a name. I made sure that I know my subject matter well. Crown prosecution is funded by the government, and they have their way of doing things and I learned their ways. You must pick your battles. You must deal with these things subtly while creating links to the right people, you’ll be able to find a common ground with them and get past the differences. You must do a lot of hard work apart from the work itself like relationship handling, tactics, networking and find women’s groups.”
Another committee member, Zafar asked her how India can benefit from the UK in terms of prosecution of cases?
Ms. Narwal responded “Fairness and transparency of decision making. During client meetings, the victims have the right to review and get full disclosure on their case. To be able to tell them what you plan to do and why?”
Ms. Narwal also touched upon the explosion of social media crimes and hate crimes, especially against the women in today’s days and age. It was a wonderful and encouraging event.
Written By Raveesha Gupta (Intellectual Property Law LLM, 2015)
Watch the webinar recording of Jaswant Narwal.
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