Justice Fathima Beevi, first woman judge at Supreme Court, passes away

Justice Fathima Beevi.
Justice Fathima Beevi. Photo: Wikemedia Commons

Kollam: Justice M Fathima Beevi, the first female judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court of India, passed away here on Thursday. She was 96.
She was undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Kollam.
She also served as the Tamil Nadu Governor from 1997 to 2001 when Jayalalitha was the Chief Minister of the State. 

She was appointed as the first female judge to the apex court in 1989. She also had the distinction of being the first Muslim woman appointed to higher courts in India.

Fathima Beevi was born to Annaveettil Meer Sahib and Khadeeja Beevi in Pathanamthitta in 1927. She obtained her Bachelor of Laws degree from  Government Law College in Thiruvananthapuram. She began her practice as a lawyer on November 14, 1950 and became a Munsiff eight years later. She became a judge of the High Court on August 1983. After being appointed as an SC judge in 1989, she retired in 1992. She was unmarried.

However, her term as the Tamil Nadu  Governor ended in controversy. she took over the governorship on January 25, 1997. In May 2001, she became the centre of controversy when AIADMK leader Jayalalitha, who won a majority in the elections, was invited to become the chief minister.

There was a debate all over the country about whether it was right to make Jayalalithaa, who was disqualified from contesting the elections, the CM. On the morning of June 30, 2001, former Chief Minister and then DMK supremo M Karunanidhi and then Union ministers Murasolimaran and T R Balu were dramatically arrested in Chennai. The Governor's decision to give a report to the Center's favouring Jayalalithaa was also controversial.

Fathima Beevi resigned as Governor after the Union Cabinet decided to recall the Governor for not giving an objective report on the incident. 

After the death of Governor Dr Chenna Reddy in 1997, then Chief Minister Karunanidhi requested the Center to appoint Fathima Beevi as his replacement. It was ironic that the events that followed the arrest of Karunanidhi resulted in her resignation.

One of the first files she signed when she took over as governor was to allow Jayalalithaa to be prosecuted in the case of illegal acquisition of assets. It was ironic, again, that she resigned as the governor after justifying Jayalalithaa's decision to arrest Karunanidhi.

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