Women Can’t Be Forced To Choose Between Right To Education And Reproductive Autonomy: Delhi High Court
Observing that women cannot be forced to choose between their right to education and right to exercise reproductive autonomy, the Delhi High Court has granted relief to a female candidate seeking relaxation of her attendance for completing Master of Education (MEd) course after having been denied maternity leave.“The Constitution envisaged an egalitarian society where citizens could...
Observing that women cannot be forced to choose between their right to education and right to exercise reproductive autonomy, the Delhi High Court has granted relief to a female candidate seeking relaxation of her attendance for completing Master of Education (MEd) course after having been denied maternity leave.
“The Constitution envisaged an egalitarian society where citizens could exercise their rights, and the society as well as the State would allow the manifestation of their rights. A compromise was then not sought in the Constitutional scheme. The citizens could not be forced to choose between their right to education and their right to exercise reproductive autonomy,” Justice Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav said.
The court was hearing the plea of the woman seeking direction on University Grants Commission to frame specific rules and regulations for grant of maternity leave for post-graduate and under-graduate courses.
She was enrolled in December, 2021 in the Chaudhary Charan Singh University for pursuing two years M.Ed. regular course. She filed an application for maternity leave before the concerned Dean and Vice-Chancellor of the varsity who rejected her request on February 28.
Setting aside the decision of the varsity’s Dean and Vice-Chancellor, Justice Kaurav directed the University to consider her application for 59 days of maternity leave afresh against the theory classes.
“In case the petitioner fulfils the minimum 80% attendance criteria in theory classes, after accounting for the 59 days maternity leave, let the appropriate steps to allow the petitioner to appear in the examination be taken by the respondent no.2-University without any delay,” the court said.
The court further said that it has been held in various judgments that the right of women to avail the benefit of maternity leave in the workplace is as an integral aspect of the right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.
“The Constitution as adopted on 26th of November, 1949 served as a pledge that the citizens of India made to themselves. A pledge to disassociate ourselves from the parochial notions of society that prevented the ushering of equality. It was without any form of equivocation that the people asserted their right to be treated equally. Irrespective of gender, race, religion or caste, citizens were to claim their opportunities,” the court said.
It added that the court as well as the society has “two roads to follow in such cases” i.e. to either follow the “bare text of an existing legal provision and be blind to the consequences of law” or to be sensitive to the person and applying the constitutional values.
“The first path would force a woman to necessarily choose between her right to a higher education and the right of becoming a mother. A woman would then have to either re-engage herself in the activity that she was previously pursuing and was halted by her pregnancy or would have to remain content with her having been unable to complete her vocation or education,” the court said.
It added: “Undoubtedly, in exercise of its power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, this court cannot create a different compartment for the purposes of relaxation of attendance. The applicable regulations which require a specific number of days of attendance are also required to be fulfilled. At the same time, the interests of candidates seeking maternity leave are also required to be catered to.”
Title: RENUKA v. University Grants Commission and Anr.
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Del) 458
Advocate Bhawanshu Sharma represented the petitioner.
Advocates Apoorv Kurup and Kirit Dadheech represented UGC.
Advocate Nikhil Jain represented Chaudhary Charan Singh University