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A sweet victory for unmarried women of Rajasthan as anganwadi positions open for them

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A sweet victory for unmarried women of Rajasthan as anganwadi positions open for them

Jaipur, Feb 1 (IANS/101Reporters) When there is no condition of marriage for men to get employed in any government department, why should that be imposed on women who strive to become anganwadi workers? That was what piqued Madhu Charan (26) to launch a legal battle against the Rajasthan government over a rather strange constraint that has been in force in the state for more than two decades.

An unmarried woman hailing from Gugdi in Pachpadra block of Balotra district, Madhu approached the Rajasthan High Court (HC) against the marriage clause for getting anganwadi job. On September 4 last year, the HC ruled in her favour and declared the condition of women being married as “illegal, illogical, arbitrary and unconstitutional”.

“I fought in the HC for four-and-a-half years… This was not my fight alone, but of all the women in the state. This was to get justice for everyone,” she told 101Reporters with a steely resolve.

“The HC has held in its judgment that depriving a woman of public employment on the basis of her unmarried status is a violation of the fundamental rights granted to a woman under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. The court termed it an attack on the dignity of women. Respecting the HC decision, the government should have immediately removed this condition. However, the department has not issued any order yet,” she added.

Explaining how the case came about, Madhu’s father Muldan Charan said the Women and Child Development (WCD) Department had issued an advertisement in June 2019 to fill the vacant post of an anganwadi worker in their village. “My daughter tried to apply, but she was not allowed because she was unmarried. Subsequently, I sent her application by speed post to the office of the Child Development Project Officer [CDPO], Pachpadra, but even that was not considered.”

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“I am a small farmer, but I stand with my daughter on this issue. Even if we had to go to the Supreme Court, we would have definitely gone,” he asserted.

Even today, people of Rajasthan hesitate to send their girl children out of their villages for work. They think it is better for women to get employed in their villages itself. In line with this thought process, unmarried girls in the state have been submitting memorandums to the department officials following the HC judgment, demanding that they be appointed in anganwadis.

“A few months ago, we invited applications for anganwadi workers’ posts for the villages in Chitalwana block. Referring to the HC decision, many unmarried women then submitted a memorandum demanding that they be appointedt to these posts. We have written to the Jaipur headquarters seeking their views,” Ashok Bishnoi, Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), WCD Department, Jalore, told 101Reporters.

Stubborn first, somersault later

Despite the HC ruling, the WCD Department initially cold-shouldered the matter. It sought the opinion of the government lawyer, who recently recommended that the government should appeal against the ruling in the HC Division Bench.

Justifying the department’s stand, Krishna Kumar Sharma, the WCD Department’s Acting CDPO for Pachpadra block, told 101Reporters that the intention behind the condition of female applicants being married was to run the department smoothly. “Unmarried women will most likely shift to other places after marriage. The department then will have to make efforts to refill those posts,” he maintained.

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Nevertheless, in a meeting held on January 23, it was decided to not appeal against the judgment. Instead, the department will start allowing unmarried women to apply for the anganwadi worker posts.

Mahesh Kumar, Law Officer, WCD Department, Jaipur, told 101Reporters that the issue was discussed at the pre-litigation committee meeting held under the chairmanship of the WCD Department secretary in Jaipur on January 23. “In the meeting, it was decided not to appeal. The government will now make new rules for this,” he informed. The work on this front is likely to be completed soon.

On the contrary, the condition of being married is still imposed for appointments made at anganwadi centres in the state. The Office of the Deputy Director, WCD Department, Hanumangarh, recently issued a release to fill 69 vacant posts of anganwadi worker/helper, mentioning it was mandatory for anganwadi workers to be class 12 pass and married.

‘A violation of fundamental rights’

Coming down on the marriage clause, Rehana Rayaz Chishti, former chairperson, Rajasthan Women’s Commission, told 101Reporters that the marriage clause was completely wrong. “Whether married or unmarried, every eligible woman should get a chance. This is their constitutional right. Depriving a woman of working as an anganwadi worker just because she is unmarried is a violation of fundamental rights,” she reasoned.

“I do not know under what circumstances the condition of being married was imposed, but now the HC has declared this condition unconstitutional. Hence the government should respect this decision and give an opportunity to work to unmarried women,” she added.

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Chandrakala Sharma, director (coordination), Ekal Nari Shakti Sansthan, an NGO fighting for the interests of single women in Rajasthan, said that depriving women of work because they were unmarried was a sign of anti-women mentality.

“If the department whose very name is Women and Child Development Department does not provide work to women, then how will women develop? Will the rights of single women get lost by not marrying? Do single women not need any work to earn a living?” she wondered.

Chandrakala said there were thousands of women who did not wish to marry, or did so late in life. If unmarried women are given the opportunity to work in anganwadi, they will gain experience. While this experience will be useful in their personal lives, they will also benefit from this experience if they get an opportunity in another anganwadi at another place after marriage.

Anganwadi worker Rani Jinagal of Amar Pura Theri village in Hanumangarh district also favoured employment of unmarried women in anganwadis. “When there is no condition for men to be married to get jobs, why is it being imposed on women only?”

There are more than 62,000 anganwadi centres across the state, with each having a worker and a helper. This fact itself shows how important is the legal victory that unmarried women in the state have achieved.

(Amarpal Singh Verma is a Rajasthan-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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