(Last Updated on : 23/01/2014)
Mithan J. Lam was one of the first women in India to be qualified as a Barrister-at-law from Lincoln's Inn. She was the first Indian woman lawyer at the Bombay High Court. She was appointed as the Sherrif of Bombay, the first Indian woman to be thus honored, during the year of India's Independence. She had a self-sacrificing and compassionate character. She conducted classes for underprivileged and neglected women of India. She worked incessantly for peace and communal harmony. The plight of the poor and the needy touched her and she worked sincerely for their cause. She took keen interest in the civic and educational affairs of the country-side and started an agri-cultural college for rural boys.
Mithan J.Lam was the daughter of Ardeshir and Hirabai Tata. She was born on 1898. She spent her early childhood at Phulgaon (a small town near Nagpur) where her father was working as the assistant weaving master of a textile mill. From childhood she was very imaginative and lived in a world of wonder and ecstasy. From Phulgaon, her family moved to Ahmeda-bad, where her father was appointed as the Assistant Manager of a larger textile mill. Later she came to live in Bombay, where her father had been made the Manager of an important textile mill. Thus, as a young girl she was lucky to travel all over India. She matriculated from Frere Fletcher School in Bombay. When she was studying at school she came under the influence of Annie Besant. She described her in her memoirs as, 'one of the most forceful, lucid, and brilliant orators,' whose 'ideas and imagery flowed like a gushing stream, raising her listeners to great emotional heights'.
Later Mithan joined Elphinstone College in Bombay and graduated with Honours in First Class, and won the Cobden Club Medal for the highest marks in Economics. From the London School of Economics she took her M.Sc. in Economics. She decided to take the bar exams simultaneously with her M.Sc studies and qualified as a Barrister of Law from Lincoln's Inn. She married Jamshed Sorab Lam, an Attorney and Notary Public. He was one of the successful lawyers of his time. He was a man of broad vision and supported her in every way to realize her potentiality and talents. A son and a daughter were born to them but unfortunately her baby daughter died in infancy. Her son, Soli grew up to be a highly promising young man who made a name for himself in the medical world as an orthopedic surgeon and consultant. He invented the revolutionary tech-nique of surgery on a fractured kneecap, for which he was awarded the Hunterian Award in the U.K., thus becoming the second Indian to have received this signal honor.
Influenced by her mother, Mithan had an urge to fight for women's rights, particularly the political vote for Indian women. Later inspired by Sarojini Naidu's ardent speech she embarked to England along with her mother, as a representative of the Bombay Women's Com-mittee of Social Workers to give evidence before the South-borough Commission on Indian Reforms. Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant and other leaders were already in England to give evidence before the Commission. On behalf of the Bombay Women's Committee of Social Workers, Mithan toured England and Scotland, lecturing on the need for equal suffrage rights for Indian women. She was one of the speakers in the House of Commons, along with Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu, and Major Graham Pole, to speak for Indians women's right to vote. This became the first Indian Reform Bill to be passed as an Act of Parliament. Two years later Indian women obtained the right to vote.
Returning to India, she was admitted at the Bombay High Court. She joined the cham-bers of one of the foremost legal luminaries, Bhulabhai Desai. Her male col-leagues envied her. As a result she had no friends and walked solitarily through the corridors of the Court for three years until other women barristers joined her. The Maharashtra Government appointed Mithan as the Justice of Peace and as the special Executive Magistrate.
Mithan was appointed as the part-time Professor at the Law College in Bombay. Later she amended the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1865.
Mithan retired from the legal profession at her own will and devoted her time for social work. She joined the Maharash-tra State Women's Council and was elected Chairman of its Labour Sub-Committee. She with other Committee members started work in the Matunga Labour Camp, which was one of the worst slums of Bombay. As part of her hard work, she succeeded in providing them with some basic facilities like electricity, water, a dispen-sary, nursery school, and sewing classes for women.
Later she became the President of the Maharashtra State Women's Council. Mithan continued her work for the upliftment of wom-en. The Government of India appointed Mithan as the Chairman of the Women's Committee set up for the Relief and Rehabilitation of Refugees from Pakistan. From their "headquarters" Mithan with other women workers visited the camps at Mulund, Kalyan and other parts of the State, traveling hundreds of miles to bring solace and help to the uprooted women and children, who had been victims of the Partition of India.
She had been closely connected with the All-India Women's Conference started by the Irish rebel, Mrs. Margaret Cousins. Mithan was appointed Vice-President for India of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and became the Founder-President of the Indian Federation of Women Lawyers. She was also made Chairman of the 13th Convention of the International Federation of Women Lawyers. In 1964, Mithan became the President of the Women Graduates' Union of Bombay.
Widely traveled in Europe, Australia, Middle East, and West Africa, she attended many International Confer-ences. She was a delegate at the Asian Workshop of the Committee of Correspondence held in the U.S. Mithan was appointed Member for U.N. Affairs in the All India Women's Conference. At United Nations, Mithan represented the International Federation of Women Lawyers and the A.I.W.C as observer to the U.N.
Mithan was the Editor of the A.I.W.C. Journal, Roshni for a number of years, and later she was the Chief Editor of La Abogada, the Newsletter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers. Her works include A Civil Code for All India, Women in India, A Survey of Women in Jobs and Professions, Careers for Women, and an unpublished book of her memoirs, Autumn Leaves.
In recognition of her long and arduous career of public service, Mithan was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India.
During her last years, Mithan had to live a very solitary life due to her deafness. Yet she managed to do her work with dedication. The death of her husband was a great blow to her, after forty-five years of happy married life. She survived him only by two and a half years. Her life was full of success and accomplishments. She was honored in all her ventures. She will eternally live in the heart of all Indians as a pioneer for women's liberation.