Vandana Sreemedha J, employed by the Kerala State Women and Child Development department had been working as a counsellor at the District Child Protection Office in Kollam since December 2016 on a contractual basis. Each year, her contract was subsequently renewed extending her period of service.
However, during mid-2020 and early 2021, she got pregnant and gave birth to a child which required her to avail of maternity leave that was denied by the office. Not only her request for leave was turned down by the Director, Women and Child Development Department but she was later terminated from service, accusing her of having been on unauthorized absence.
Vandana, 28, was forced to move Kerala state high court against this order and filed a writ petition (civil) in the Ernakulam court through advocate B Mohanlal. In a recent hearing, Justice Devan Ramachandran ordered that the petitioner be given her job back and reprimanded the employer for firing her.
Observing the challenges of being a working mother, in his judgement, Justice Devan Ramachandran mentioned, "Only a woman knows how acutely difficult it is to balance between motherhood and her career."
His judgement further added, "The mother's constant proximity to the child is scientifically proven to be absolutely unexpendable and this, primarily and inter alia, is why the provisions for maternity leave are now internationally accepted."
In her petition, Vandana whose contract was renewed from January 18, 2021, onwards, mentioned why she had to take leave from January 19 to March 26; one of the reasons for which she was taken off the job.
A copy of the judgement obtained from Bar and Bench reads, "She (Vandana) says that since her child was only 51 days old then, and since the doctors had advised her to breastfeed him regularly, she had no other option but to seek leave between 19.01.2021 and 26.03.2021."
It further adds that although the petitioner's request of going on leave between Jan and March was recommended by her immediate office—District Child Protection Office—it was rejected by the Director of the Women and Child Development Department.
In his judgement, Justice Ramachandran said:
"This attitude is not one which this Court can countenance in this century, when women essay several roles, take on variegated responsibilities and require to be adept multitaskers, to survive and find wings to achieve their legitimate ambitions. It is certainly my hortative hope that the endeavours of such industrious women ought to obtain unstinted support and encouragement, but the orders impugned in this writ petition can only serve to undermine the confidence and morale of persons like the petitioner, who bravely face the challenges of life every day, with the steely resolve to balance their personal and official life to the best of their capacity."