Google marks India's first female lawyer's 151st birthday


Born in Nashik on November 15,1866, Cornelia Sorabji is more than just the first woman lawyer in India: she was the first female to practice law in India and Britain, the first woman to study in Bombay University, and also the first Indian national to study in Oxford - or in any British university, for that matter. Apart from this, Sorabji was also the first woman to graduate from the then Bombay University (now University of Mumbai).

She helped over 600 women and children all over Bengal (West and East), Orissa, Assam and Bihar.

Upon returning to India in 1894, she plunged into social service and legal advisory work, especially for "purda-nashin" women from wealthy or royal families, who had no means to defend their wealth and properties, but Sorabji secured special permission to file pleas on their behalf, yet could not represent them in the courts.

Later, she became the legal advisor to the colonial government of India. Designed by illustrator Jasjyot Singh Hans, the Google homepage shows a white-wigged Sorabji, dressed in a lawyer's black robe, in front of the Allahabad High Court. Her mother too, is reported to have established many schools in Pune for girl child education. She had to petition to the National Indian Association to help her complete her studies. With their assistance, she was able to get admission in Sommerville College in Oxford University.

Purdahnashins is a term given to a veiled woman or those who practiced the purdah.

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Even after winning a scholarship to study in England, she was initially denied entry because she was a woman.

However, her legal journey in India was not a cakewalk. She gave LLB examination of Bombay University in 1897 and pleader's examination of Allahabad High Court in 1899. In 1904, she was appointed Lady Assistant to the Court of Wards of Bengal.

She took up law as her career at a time when women were not even allowed in the profession. The next year Cornelia began practicing in Kolkata. It was then that she started practicing in Calcutta.

She also wrote short stories, articles and her autobiography "Between the Twilights".

Almost 58 years after her death, a statue of her bust was unveiled at the historic Lincoln's Inn in London. She retired from law in high court in 1929 and died on July 6, 1954 at her London home.