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Needs of India’s Marginalized Women Prompt Sister to Become a Lawyer

16 Apr 2015 Editors: This story originally was published in Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter. The website is

By Jose Kavi

NEW DELHI (CNS) — Sister Jessy Kurian is a leading human rights activist whose mission is to provide legal assistance to marginalized women in India.

She was the first Catholic nun in India to hold a quasi-judiciary post. A Sister of St. Ann of Providence of Secunderabad, she was a member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions and is the first member of her congregation to study law.

The educator-turned-lawyer is now based in New Delhi and practices in the Supreme Court of India. She shared with Global Sisters Report what prompted her to take up law and work for the poor:

Q.: Why did you become a lawyer?

A.: From my childhood … I had the desire to become a lawyer after reading about the life story of Anna Chandy (India’s first woman judge). At the same time I wanted to become a nun to serve people. When I consulted my parish priest, he said no convent would admit a lawyer, she might ask too many questions. I chose to become a nun thinking that it would help me serve humanity. God so willed that after 20 years in the convent, I could become a lawyer. After 30 years I have realized a nun has a better chance than a lawyer to serve people.

Q.: Then, how did you become a lawyer finally?

A.: As a nun, I saw common people, especially women, suffering. I was the principal of many schools and colleges in Andhra Pradesh (in southern India) for 10 years. I saw women suffering because of domestic violence, cruelty, the dowry system and sexual harassment.

What really compelled me to take up law were two incidents. I came across a woman lecturer who had been married to a professor for five years but had no child. During sharing, she burst into tears and told me that, on her first day in the husband’s house, the mother-in-law warned her that she would be sent to her home if her first child was a girl. The couple never tried for a child because of fear.

Second was the plight of a first-year girl student in my college. She used to be on campus at odd hours. When I inquired, she said that from the time of her birth, her father was against her mother for giving birth to her, a girl child. Everyone considered her mother a curse. Her father was angry when he saw her, his only child, in the house. He worked in a factory in shifts. The girl went home only when he was away for work. When he was at home at night, she would go to bed early.

I was shocked to learn that a woman had no right to give birth. A girl child has no right to be born. It is the birthright of any woman to give birth. The mother-in-law had no respect for her own gender. These people suffered because they did not know their rights. So, I had to teach people their fundamental rights.

I resigned my post as a principal in 2002 and went to study law.

Q.: When did you start your practice? What was your first case?

A.: My practice started in 2005. My first case was about a domestic violence. A woman was burned to death by acid. Three people were arrested and convicted. They were given seven years in jail. After that case, I came to Delhi the same year.

Q.: What has been your experience as a lawyer-nun?

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Tags: India Sisters Indian Catholics Women (rights/issues)