In a significant judgment, the Punjab and Haryana high court has held that a woman cannot be forced to make a choice between bearing a child and employment. Directing the Army Medical Corps (AMC) to appoint to a doctor, who was termed unfit as she was pregnant at the time of joining the service, the high court bench said such an action can have no place in modern India.
Passing a 36-page judgment on a petition by the woman, justice Harinder Singh Sidhu held that forcing a choice between bearing a child and employment interferes both with a woman’s reproductive rights and her right to employment.
“It is against the weight of the judicial precedents from major jurisdictions across the globe interpreting laws prohibiting gender discrimination. Most of all, by forcing a choice between bearing a child and employment, it interferes both, with her reproductive rights and her right to employment. Such an action can have no place in modern India,” the HC said.
The petitioner doctor was declared qualified and medically fit in 2013 to join short-service commission (SSC) after various stages of the selection process. However, at the time of joining in February 2014, she was declared medically unfit as during the prolonged period between the selection process and the joining, she became pregnant.
Unlike other branches, married women till the age of 45 are eligible to join the AMC and there is no training in a military academy. Candidates join a hospital closest to residence and are made to complete a basic in-service course of eight weeks within a flexible time period. The AMC had argued that since the petitioner was not in a fit condition to be granted SSC and there being no provision for extension of date of joining, she was not given appointment as she was not found in the ‘shape’ to be required at the time of joining.
“It (the action of army) violates Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution….. to the extent it lays down that pregnancy would render a candidate unfit for commissioning is also illegal and unconstitutional and is so declared. However, keeping in view the nature and responsibilities of the job in question, it would be open to the respondents to devise any appropriate procedure to either give appointment on selection and grant maternity leave or keep a vacancy against which the woman candidate who is pregnant was selected,” the HC said.