Former Supreme Court of India judge M. Fathima Beevi was the first Muslim woman to be nominated to any of the country’s higher judiciaries.
She was appointed to the Supreme Court of India in 1989. She became a member of the National Human Rights Commission after leaving the court and eventually served as the Governor of Tamil Nadu, India, from 1997 to 2001.
M.Fathima Beevi, daughter of Annaveettil Meer Sahib and Khadeeja Beevi, was born on April 30, 1927, in Pathanamthitta, in the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore, now in the Indian state of Kerala.
She attended Pathanamthitta’s Town School and Catholicate High School and earned a B.Sc. Degree in Chemistry from University College in Thiruvananthapuram. She graduated from Thiruvananthapuram’s Government Law College with a bachelor’s degree in law.
On November 14, 1950, Beevi was enrolled as an Advocate. In 1950, she received the highest score on the Bar Council test. She began her legal career in Kerala’s lower courts. In May of 1958, she was appointed as a Munsiff in the Kerala Subordinate Judicial Services.
On May 14, 1984, she was appointed as a permanent judge of the High Court. Later on 29 April 1989, she retired as a High Court Judge, but on 6 October 1989, she was elevated to the Supreme Court as a Judge, from which she retired on 29 April 1992.
On January 25, 1997, she was appointed as the Governor of Tamil Nadu. “Her expertise and insights into the working of the Constitution and the laws include tremendous assets,” said Shankar Dayal Sharma, who appointed her as Governor of Tamil Nadu and Justice Sukhdev Singh Kang, former Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, as Governor of Kerala.
She sparked outrage when she awarded a clean bill of health to the law and order situation in Tamil Nadu, which drew the wrath of the central government. Arun Jaitley, the Law Minister, requested her resignation.
Later, she resigned as Governor of Tamil Nadu after controversy over her acceptance of Jayalalithaa’s post-election assembly majority and the incarceration of Karunanidhi, who had campaigned for her appointment four years before.
Jayalalitha supported the choice of the state governor to ask her to form a government. She expressed herself, “She has served on the Supreme Court as a judge. She is a legal specialist in her own right. She doesn’t need to be taught about the law or the constitution.”
Fathima Beevi resigned after the Union Cabinet recommended to the President that the Governor be recalled for failing to fulfill her constitutional obligations.
Ms. Fathima Beevi was chastised by the Centre for failing to provide an independent and objective assessment of the events following the arrests of former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and two Union Ministers, Murasoli Maran, and T. R. Baalu. The Centre had accused her of blindly following the official position.
Beevi was also a member of the National Human Rights Commission and the Chairman of the Kerala Commission for Backward Classes in 1993. In 1990, she was awarded the Hon. D Litt and Mahila Shiromani Awards. She also received the Bharat Jyoti Award.