Justice Anna Chandy – The pioneer from Travancore and India’s first female judge

Anna Chandy

Justice Anna Chandy is India’s first female judge, the first woman to serve on a High Court, and possibly the first woman in the Anglo-Saxon world. On February 9, 1959, she was sworn in as a judge of Kerala’s High Court and served for more than eight years, until April 5, 1967.

Chandy hails from a Syrian Christian family in Travancore. After losing her father at a young age, she was nurtured in a female-dominated home and was most likely inspired by the Travancore Nair community’s matrilineal traditions.

Career and Education

Women’s education received a boost under the reign of Travancore State’s regent, Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. Anna Chandy went for a post-graduate law degree, taking advantage of the new circumstances that permitted women to enroll in the Government Law College and graduated with distinction in 1926.

Anna Chandy was a well-known “first-generation feminist” from Kerala who advocated for women’s rights in the social, political, and economic realms, particularly through the newspaper Shrimati, which she created and maintained.

In 1931, when she entered the male-dominated realm of politics, the Nair newspaper Malayalarajyam criticized her, despite the Christian Nazrani Deepika sponsoring her as a “Syrian Christian candidate.”

Her views on women’s rights were frequently ahead of their time and rejected by large segments of society, including women themselves. Despite continual criticism and opposition, she stood firm and stated her opinions loudly and candidly.

Chandy was Kerala’s first woman to get a law degree. She entered the bar in 1929. She served in the Shree Mulam Popular Assembly from 1932 to 1934 and was designated First Grade Munsiff in 1937, being the first Malayalee woman to hold the position.

District Judge: Professional Life

She was appointed a district judge in 1948 and later elevated to the Supreme Court in 1959. During her service as a judge of the Kerala High Court. She issued several landmark decisions that demonstrated a thorough comprehension of the law as well as an unflinching commitment to the dignity of the individual and the rights of the accused.

Chandy withdrew from the bench in 1967. After a distinguished career as a lawyer and judge, she worked to bring about societal reforms as a member of the Kerala Law Commission. Her biography, Atmakatha, was released in 1973.

Anna Chandy, the first woman to enroll at Travancore’s law institution, received a lot of criticism and opposition from male students and instructors. Despite this antagonism, she earned a distinction in her degree.

Anna Chandy’s strong opinions were frequently met with shock and outrage from members of society, notably prominent intellectuals and women. Anna Chandy’s monthly, Shrimati, pushed for women’s position as a distinct category and aggressively campaigned for reservations.

A vocal supporter of women’s rights.

Chandy strongly promoted gender equality and women’s reproductive rights. Almost three-quarters of a century before the Supreme Court decision in KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India, she articulated the twin notions of autonomy and dignity as central to her vision of women’s equality.

She first advocated for birth control through self-control.

In defense of women’s rights to work and earn money outside the home, she advised those women who wanted to enter the public sphere to exercise ‘ascetic self-control’. Given that women’s agency over reproductive rights is still a difficult subject today, her arguments were ahead of their time.

All India Women’s Congress meeting

Anna Chandy determined at the 1935 All India Women’s Congress gathering in Trivandrum to request that the government construct birth control clinics across the country as part of her work in this field.

She also requested that towns and other institutions provide the appropriate information to people seeking contraceptive counsel. There was a lot of outrage about a Christian woman endorsing such a resolution.

Anna Chandy was one of the few who supported contraception based on feminist ideas about women’s control over their bodies and reproductive autonomy. She disputed the notion that women’s bodies were only tools for men’s enjoyment.

She contended that women should no longer be immune from the death penalty under Travancore law. 

Anna Chandy also advocated against anti-women laws in the Travancore Civil Procedure. Such as the husband’s right to seek restitution of conjugal rights. Again, she was ahead of her time in advocating for women’s complete agency and responsibility.

The perceived lack of agency of women, their position as chattel, and the belief that they are incapable of accepting criminal responsibility continue to haunt courtrooms today. She was a formidable woman, firm in her beliefs, and her views are still relevant in today’s culture.

Speech at the Vidyabhivardhini Sabha

Chandy delivered a blistering speech at the Vidyabhivardhini Sabha in Trivandrum, challenging Velu Pillai. A well-known Travancore politician, thinker, and writer who opposed government employment for women. The Sabha was headed by a High Court judge.

Pillai argued that employers should consider employing unmarried women only, if necessary, to avoid disrupting married women’s duties. He claimed that employing married women would unfairly concentrate wealth in a few families and harm husbands’ self-esteem.

Justice Chandy’s persistent interest in women’s rights is shown in a dissenting note she circulated in the Law Commission’s 42nd Report, where she sat as a member.

Chandy once again demonstrated tremendous foresight by arguing that both men and women should face equal accountability for engaging in adultery under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which exclusively punished men.

Justice Chandy had strong and unusually conservative views on the importance of family as a fundamental unit of societal life. Perhaps it is for this reason that I advocate for women to be held equally responsible for the offense of adultery.


Anna Chandy, a woman of strong conviction, defied the barriers to become a pioneer in Kerala’s women’s rights movement. Her ideas were much ahead of their time, with a strong emphasis on rights-based approaches.

She voiced judgments, essays, and attitudes that reflect a visionary perspective, which may have received recognition much later. Unfortunately, history has almost forgotten her among India’s other female pioneers. This work dedicates itself to her memory.