New Delhi: Can students claim exemption from attendance requirements due to pregnancy?
A recent ruling of the Kerala High Court answers with a negative.
On 24 May, the court ruled that V.G. Jasmine, a second-year graduate student of Kannur University, cannot take her examination as she missed 52 out of 93 classes during her advanced stage of pregnancy.
“Pregnancy cannot be considered to be a medical condition visited on the petitioner unexpectedly,” said justice Vinod Chandran, while refusing to condone the attendance shortage.
The 24-year-old was not allowed to sit for her Bachelor of Education examinations by the university, following which she moved the high court.
“The petitioner has chosen to expand her family and can only be deemed to have taken a sabbatical from regular studies; which is definitely permissible and laudable too. But that cannot be turned to her advantage for wriggling out of the terms and conditions of a regular academic course,” the court said.
Just two days after the court’s ruling, the ministry of human resource development relaxed several rules for women candidates pursuing research degrees, including allowing a 240-day maternity break from their studies.
The new rules allow the women candidates maternity leave, or child-care leave, once during the entire duration of their MPhil/PhD programmes for up to 240 days. It also allows women candidates to transfer research data due to relocations to new institutions. It means that if a woman candidate shifts her place of work or residence because of any personal or professional reason, she can shift her research work from one university to another close to where she is moving.
Pregnancy affects women in different ways and must be accommodated in an academic session if the student wants, said Amita Dhanda, professor at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, adding, “It is not right to say that pregnancy must be planned and prioritized by a student.”
The Directive Principles of State Policy under the Constitution requires the state to make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. The ruling stands contrary to a 2010 verdict of the Delhi High Court condoning attendance requirements for pregnant candidates pursuing a law degree from the Delhi University.
The court had held that denying exemption would be “completely in negation of the conscience of the Constitution of India but also of the women rights and gender equality this nation has long been striving for.”