"Marital status cannot be the eligibility criterion for public employment," observed the Rajasthan High Court while calling the denial of an Anganwadi job to a woman because she was unmarried "irrational, discriminatory, and a violation of fundamental rights."
A single-judge bench of Justice Dinesh Mehta noted that such a condition denying government employment to an unmarried woman was a violation of her right to equality and the right to equal opportunity in public employment.
Rajasthan HC On Denying Job For Unmarried Women
The court observed that it was constrained to note that this is an "entirely new front of discrimination," which was not even envisaged or thought of while framing the Constitution. The court ruled that the ostensible reason given to validate the denial of a job—that an unmarried woman would migrate to her matrimonial home after marriage—does not pass as a reasonable explanation.
Justice Dinesh Mehta delivered the verdict while hearing a plea by a woman named Madhu who had applied for an Anganwadi centre in her village after seeing an advertisement for a job vacancy on June 28, 2019. The advertisement was based on a circular issued by the state on November 9, 2016. The circular and advertisement mentioned that unmarried women cannot apply for the position.
The woman pointed out that she was a graduate with a degree in arts and owned a computer proficiency certificate (RS-CIT). She revealed that when she applied for the job, she was informed that she was ineligible because she was unmarried.
Subsequently, the woman moved to the High Court in 2019. On July 29, 2019, interim relief was granted, and the authorities were directed to consider the woman’s application for the job. In its final judgement on September 4, the Rajasthan High Court raised a series of questions that can be posed to the state’s policymakers.
"What if, the candidate marries a boy of the same village or vicinity? What if, a married woman, after being engaged as Anganwadi Karykarta, moves to another place? What if a woman’s husband decides to live in a woman’s parental home? What if, a woman gets widowed or divorced and decides to move to a new place? and what if, a woman does not wish to marry at all!"
Suggesting that such situations can emerge, the single judge bench said that the state cannot preempt any such situation or prevent a woman from claiming a job just because she is unmarried.
The court further stated that this was illegal, arbitrary, and against the Constitution, which guarantees equality. It also highlighted that the apprehension that after marriage the woman would move into her matrimonial house was baseless, and it is not a solid enough reason to justify denying the job.
However, the court granted liberty to the state by directing it to take an undertaking from unmarried woman candidates to ensure that if, at any point after marriage or otherwise, a woman working at any post in an Anganwadi centre moves to a different place other than the area covered by the centre, her engagement will be brought to an end.
We Don't Need Yet Another Form Of Discrimination
I’ve personally experienced this discrimination a few years ago. A couple of private companies told me that I was ineligible after I told them that I was an unmarried 23-year-old woman. One of the interviewers was curious to learn more about my matrimonial preferences rather than interviewing me for the job. Some of my women friends have also been denied jobs solely based on their marital status. This is a real issue that many women face in many places.
It's reassuring to know that the court posed several questions to the state and ordered that a woman not be denied a job just because she is unmarried and might migrate to a different location after marriage. This very thought is highly regressive and detrimental to the progress of the nation.
Despite the various developments, women are still subjected to numerous forms of discrimination, and we certainly do not need more forms of discrimination added to the list. Hopefully, both the private and public sectors refrain from discriminating women candidates based on their marital status.
Views expressed by the author are their own