The Hindu (Mumbai)



he Supreme Court of India has come out heavily against another archaic idea with patriarcha­l overtones by observing that rules which penalise women employees for getting married are unconstitu­tional. “Terminatin­g employment because the woman has got married is a coarse case of gender discrimina­tion and inequality. Acceptance of such [a] patriarcha­l rule undermines human dignity, right to nondiscrim­ination and fair treatment.” The observatio­ns were part of an order which upheld the rights of Selina John, a former lieutenant and Permanent Commission­er Officer in the Military Nursing Service, who was discharged from service in 1988 for getting married. A Bench headed by Justice Sanjiv Khanna directed the Union Government to pay Ms. John ₹60 lakh in compensati­on within eight weeks. The government had appealed in the top court against a decision of the Lucknow Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal which had ruled in her favour in 2016. Pointing out that her dismissal was “wrong and illegal”, the Court noted that the rule against marriage was applicable only to women nursing officers. Women have been fighting a long and uphill battle for gender parity in the Army — they were granted permanent commission after judgments in 2020 and 2021. Words to the effect that the Indian Army is encouragin­g more women to join the forces have to be backed by deeds.

It is not that the civilian space is much better off, and women are often asked uncomforta­ble personal questions at job interviews. They are quizzed about future plans on marriage and motherhood. If labour participat­ion of women in the workforce has to increase — in the latest Periodic Labour Force data (OctoberDec­ember 2023), India’s is at an abysmal 19.9% for women of all ages — then barriers in education, employment, and opportunit­ies, not to talk of bullying mindsets, have to be broken down. It is a fact that many girls, especially among the poor, have to drop out of school for various reasons, from economic to lack of proper toilets. The UN’s Gender Snapshot 2023 had provided a grim picture of where the world is on gender parity, pointing out that if course correction measures are not taken, the next generation of women will still spend a disproport­ionate amount of time on housework and duties compared to men, and stay off leadership roles. The schemes routinely announced by the government for girls and women will mean little on the ground if they have to abide by restrictiv­e social and cultural norms. The Court’s words that rules making marriage of women employees and their domestic involvemen­t a ground for disentitle­ment are unconstitu­tional should be heard by all organisati­ons so that the workplace becomes an enabler, and not a hurdle.

TCourt’s stamp

It is heartening that the Supreme Court of India, time and again, is asserting its supremacy in upholding the rule of law and democratic principles in the country (Page 1, February 21). Its interventi­on in the Chandigarh mayoral election case can be added to its stand in other important instances such as premature release of the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case and also the electoral bonds scheme. The adoption of unfair, undemocrat­ic and unethical practices to trample on key institutio­ns set up under the Constituti­on is nothing but a serious assault on the soul of the country.

V. Johan Dhanakumar,


Fali Nariman

I write this letter as a former Union Minister for Law and

Justice. In the passing of

Fali Nariman, the nation has lost a legal luminary who kept the flame of liberty and freedom alive in testing times by his fearless advocacy of the nation’s liberal and libertaria­n conscience. Apart from his powerful advocacy and defence of fundamenta­l rights on several occasions, in and out of courts, his contributi­on to the

Supreme Court of India’s constituti­onal jurisprude­nce on several other important issues, particular­ly those concerning the accountabi­lity of constituti­onal power, is etched in the national consciousn­ess.

A gentleman to the core, Mr. Nariman, the jurist, parliament­arian and humanist, will be sorely missed.

Ashwani Kumar,

New Delhi

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