As per Rule 43 of the Central Civil Services (Leave) Rules 1972, “a female employee with less than two surviving children can seek maternity leaves”. However, it’s this subclause — “two surviving children” — that created issues for Singh when she requested childcare leave for her biological child.
Aggrieved by the PGIMER administration denying her right, she first moved the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) at its Chandigarh bench, then moved the High Court to no avail. Both the institutes noted that Singh became a mother of two owing to her marriage to Amir/Amar Singh, and that “as such, any child born to her now can only be her third child,” justifying disentitlement of her maternity leave grant.
When the appellant (Singh) moved the apex court, the court had favourable findings to share. In Deepika Singh v. Central Administrative Tribunal and Others, an order by the apex court’s bench constituting Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna observes that “family relationships may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships.
The order also cited a “‘time-use’ survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), [which finds that] women in India currently spend up to 352 minutes per day on unpaid work [including childcare], 577% more than the time spent by men.”
Furthermore, the apex court made a heartening statement, which signals towards the shared goal of many queer-rights activists, who seek to redefine family and create newer forms of familial relationships.
The order reads, “A household may be a single-parent household for any number of reasons, including the death of a spouse, separation, or divorce. Similarly, the guardians and caretakers (who traditionally occupy the roles of the ‘mother’ and the ‘father’) of children may change with remarriage, adoption, or fostering. These manifestations of love and of families may not be typical but they are as real as their traditional counterparts. Such atypical manifestations of the family unit are equally deserving not only of protection under [the] law but also of the benefits available under social welfare legislation. The black letter of the law must not be relied upon to disadvantage families which are different from traditional ones. The same undoubtedly holds true for women who take on the role of motherhood in ways that may not find a place in the popular imagination.”
It is particularly celebratory as the case of recognition of same-sex marriage is yet to be heard. It’s indeed a ray of hope for many, as the Supreme Court from time to time has been offering some signs of constitutional validity in a variety of ways in which queer people call themselves a unit and seek protection from the law.