In a case involving a woman who was denied maternity leave, the Kerala High Court chastised the state for dismissing her as a counsellor at the Women and Child Development Department and set aside the dismissal order.
While delivering the decision, Justice Devan Ramachandran noted that "only a woman understands how acutely difficult it is to balance motherhood and her career."
Vandana Sreemedha, a contract Counsellor, filed the petition after being terminated from service for unauthorized absence.In her petition, she claimed that her request for maternity leave was denied, and to make matters worse, she was terminated from service when she went to take the leave.
Sreemedha went on to say that she had approached several authorities with a request for maternity leave, but that all of her efforts had been in vain. The petitioner was represented in the case by Advocate Sri B Mohanlal.
It was also argued before the Court that the Director of the Department had threatened to take action against the District Child Protection Officer for appointing the petitioner "without proper care," implying that he should not have offered her employment solely because she had recently given birth and needed leave to care for her child.
Following a hearing with the parties, the Court stated as follows:
Without further elaboration, this attitude is not one that this court can tolerate in this century, when women play multiple roles, shoulder a variety of responsibilities, and must be adept multitaskers in order to survive and find wings to achieve their legitimate ambitions."
The Single Bench found the entire incident to be unfortunate and emphasized that such acts undermine the confidence and morale of people like the petitioner, who face the challenges of life every day with a steely resolve to balance their personal and official lives to the best of their ability.
Sunil Kumar Kuriakose, the Government Pleader, also brought to the Bench's attention the fact that the petitioner had not yet been substituted and that her position was still vacant.Although the respondents agreed to reinstate her, they maintained that no monetary benefits would be granted to the petitioner during her leave.
The Bench deferred to the Authorities' discretion in making this decision. Allowing the writ petition, the court ordered the respondents to reinstate the petitioner immediately and to reconsider her application for leave as soon as possible.
While setting aside the order terminating the petitioner's service, the Court added:
"Being a new mother is like riding a roller coaster, and being a working mother is even more difficult.The minutiae of motherhood can never be properly contemplated, and it entails navigating a plethora of daily issues that ultimately determine the child's health and future."
"The mother's constant proximity to the child has been scientifically proven to be absolutely irreplaceable, which is why, among other things, maternity leave provisions are now internationally accepted," it further added.