SC Agrees To Hear Transgender Woman's Allegations Of Discrimination In Air India’s Cabin Crew Recruitment Drive

SC Agrees To Hear Transgender Woman

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a petition filed by a transgender woman who was refused a cabin crew position by national carrier Air India. The petitioner, Shanavi Ponnusamy has alleged that she was discriminated against owing to her sexual orientation and was hence, denied the post.

Shanavi completed her engineering from Dr. Aditanar College of Engineerings, Tamil Nadu, in 2010, and underwent a sex reassignment surgery to become a woman in April, 2014. She thereafter worked with Sutherland Global Services (airline sector) for over a year to gain experience in the field.

Shanavi then went on to work with Air India customer support (domestic and international) in Chennai, before applying for the post of female cabin crew for its Northern Region. However, much to her dismay, she was not short-listed for the post.

She has now alleged that she did not make the cut merely because she is a transgender woman and the vacancies in the cabin crew were earmarked only for women. She asserts that Air India’s rejection on the ground of her sexual orientation violates her Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, 16 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

“…the State cannot discriminate on the ground of gender, violating Articles 14 to 16 and 21 of the Constitution of India as the Constitution guarantees enjoyment of life by all citizens of this country with dignity, viewing these human rights in terms of human development. 

In view of the various provisions of law mentioned in the body of the petition coupled with the petitioner's fundamental rights of life and employment without discrimination, the respondents have faltered and acted illegally in rejecting the candidature of the petitioner for employment in Air India,” she explains.

In the petition filed through Advocate Praveen Swarup, Shanavi traces the constitutional rights of transgender people, and highlights several problems faced by them, submitting, “…the rule of law is supreme and everyone is equal in the eyes of law in India. Yet, the transgender community is in a constant battle as they have to fight oppression, abuse and discrimination from every part of the society, whether it’s their own family and friends or society at large. The life of transgender people is a daily battle as there is no acceptance anywhere and they are ostracised from the society and also ridiculed.”

She further contends that her grievance was not addressed despite her having written to the Prime Minister’s Officer. While her complaint was forwarded to the Office of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the authorities closed her case with the observation that currently, the transgender category does not exist in the recruitment policy. She now demands that Air India be directed to consider her candidature for the post.

Petitioner trying to arm twist her way to the post as she didn’t qualify the exams: Air India

Air India has however denied all averments, seeking dismissal of the petition alleging that the same is a “gross abuse of the process of law”. 

In its counter-affidavit, Air India has further asserted that Shanavi has failed to demonstrate elements of discrimination and arbitration and that she is trying to “arm-twist” Air India into employing her. It, in fact, alleges that Shanavi was rejected only on the basis of merits, as she was unable to clear the interview fairly.

Air India submits that the task of conducting the Group Discussion (GD) & Personality Attitude Test (PAT) for the post was outsourced to an independent consulting agency called the Ashoka Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Chanakyapuri. It then contends that Shanavi’s candidature was rejected as she had only secured 51 marks in the GD & PAT, as against the requirement of 55% marks in case of Scheduled Caste candidates.

“…it becomes evident that the Petitioner was/has been unable to qualify for the said post twice, due to her own inefficiency and is falsely blaming the answering Respondent for being discriminatory on account of her gender,” it therefore contends.

Air India finally submits that while it has “utmost regard and sympathy” for Shanavi, it has suffered “immense loss to its goodwill and reputation” due to the petition and it hence, reserves the right to sue her for damages.

Should be shown leniency in minimum qualifying marks: Shanavi

In response to Air India’s affidavit, Shanavi has relied on the response received from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, submitting, “…in the reply to the representation submitted by the petitioner herein to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India which was forwarded to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, the respondent adopted an entirely different and totally contradictory stand thereby stated that the reason for Non-selection that ‘presently transgender category does not exist in the recruitment policy and if this category is introduced anytime in future we will advertised vacancies accordingly. (sic)”

Besides, she contends that 55% has been prescribed as the qualifying marks for female candidates and that leniency should be shown to her. She further calls out Air India for outsourcing the GD & PAT, and asserts that the entire selection process has been rendered invalid as no specific instructions were laid down for transgender candidates separately.