National Law University, Delhi
Editors Note: This is the first of two posts on the Androcentric attendance requirements in India. The second part will be published on November 16.
Over the last few months, Indian women have been speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse more than ever before. But the #Metoo movement, perhaps sparked six years ago by the notorious case of a 23-year old student being gang raped by six men on a bus in Delhi, has thrown into stark relief the extremely phallocentric nature of our state and societal institutions. It has diagnosed with rage the abject failure of ‘neutral’ institutions and processes that have long provided men the monopoly over ‘objectivity’. There is growing and predictable male anxiety with the umbrella nature of the movement to not just include experiences of sexual harassment, but all that contributes to it i.e. a systemic culture of violence inscribed on women’s bodies by mutilating their subjective experiences into a male norm. By treating unlikes alike, we have set women up to fail within these institutions by using a male standard as a rigid reference to invariably ‘otherise’ female experiences. Legal feminists such as Martha Fineman the world over have cautioned against such gender-neutral models which confine reforms and moves away from equity in their ill-considered attempts to construct a more ideal society based on a formal equality rhetoric.. This is especially pertinent in the Indian context of glaring gender inequality. According to the latest UN Gender Inequality Index, India ranks a dismal 127th out of 160 countries reflecting inequality between men and women based on reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation.
I instantiate this through the male norm of an ideal university student, capable of meeting attendance requirements for his courses. The norm applies uniformly as a formal rule of law in India to women and prevents them from taking University exams if they fail to fulfil minimum attendance requirements, even if such shortages are due to pregnancy. On the other hand, many Universities in U.K., including LSE, UCL, University of Leeds among many others adopt a much more flexible and sensitive approach to ensure that female students are not detained or disadvantaged due to maternity.
Indian University Attendance Requirements: Stacked Against Women
In India, the University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations govern attendance in Universities established or recognised by the government and the Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules apply specifically to law colleges from among such Universities. Minimum attendance requirements in Indian Universities providing professional legal courses, to which the BCI rules apply or non-legal courses governed by internal regulations of different Universities in line with the UGC regulations prescribe the uniform application of a formal rule of law which prevents women from writing their exams or claiming their degrees for falling short of a male norm which refuses to accommodate women’s needs and distinct burdens within a pursuit for androcentric academic rigour.
It was argued by the petitioners in A. Arulin Ajitha Rani v. FTI, Tamil Nadu in 2009 that the denial of maternity leave to students as distinct from medical leave offends the provisions of the UN Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961. The Madras High Court dismissed the arguments holding that educational institutions stand on a different footing from companies and the matter concerns a policy decision best left to the wisdom of legislature. In the UK, similar arguments are precluded by Section 17 of the Equality Act which expands the prohibition against maternity based discrimination, already existing in the workplace to also include areas outside of it and in doing so, categorically mentions the higher education sector.
In India on the other hand, a Delhi High Court decision in the 2010 case of Vandana Kandari vs. University of Delhi, which granted relaxation to two students who could not fulfil the BCI requirement of 66% attendance due to being in the advanced stages of pregnancy was overturned by a Division Bench of the Court in 2011. The Bench held that such leniency could not be exercised in any case whatsoever. This position of the Delhi High Court has come to be regarded as settled law in subsequent decisions. The Delhi High Court in 2011 in Fahad Hassan vs Jamia Milia Islamia University, chided such women as ‘incorrigible students’ while holding that pregnancy could not entitle them to any relaxation in attendance requirements as it is not an unexpected medical condition based on the Division Bench decision in Vandana Kandari. The Kerala High Court in Jasmine VG v. Kannur University in 2016 prohibited a pregnant woman from writing her B.Ed. examination as she fell short of the minimum 75% attendance requirement as per course regulation. Similarly, the Delhi High Court in Ankita Meena v. University of Delhi in 2018 barred a second year law student from writing her semester examination for falling short of the minimum 70% attendance requirement despite the fact that she could not attend most classes as she delivered a child during that semester.
No Reproductive Autonomy: The Production of the ‘Mother’
The judicial construction of pregnancy as a free and informed choice is completely divorced from Indian social reality. Indian women exercise little autonomy over reproductive decision-making and have limited access to contraceptives. At least 50 percent of Indian women are married before the age of 18 despite the Child Marriage Act, 2006. Out of this huge chunk of population, only 8 percent of married adolescents currently use contraception. Marriage as an exception to statutory rape in India completely negates the sexual autonomy of married women in refusing to engage in sexual intercourse with their husbands. Further in patriarchal societies, there is a production of the ‘mother’ ever since a female is born. This is because of tremendous social pressure on women to bear children in such societies which define “woman’s nature” based on the ideals of marriage, dutifulness, subservience and nurturing and regard any transgression as deviance warranting social wrath and course correction to align with the male authored norm of female nature and permissible behaviour.
Anupriya Dhonchak is a third-year student at National Law University, Delhi. She has been a research assistant to Adv. Pratiksha Baxi and a researcher at the Centre for Constitutional Law, Policy, and Governance, NLUD.
Suggested Citation: Anupriya Dhonchak, ‘Part I: Androcentric University Attendance Requirements in India: Is there Hope for the Future’ IACL-AIDC Blog (14 November 2018) https://blog-iacl-aidc.org/blog/2018/11/13/part-i-androcentric-university-attendance-requirements-in-india-is-there-hope-for-the-future