A look at Karnataka High Court's decision to give equal status to married daughters and sons in defence welfare guidelines

Rules Karnataka High Court

The Karnataka High Court corrected the gender-biased stance of the Sainik Welfare Board in a recent ruling. The Board’s guidelines specified that married daughters were not eligible for availing of the dependent benefits available to ex-defence personnel. The Court said that married daughters remain daughters, just as a married son continues to be a son. Just as the act of marriage made changes to the relationship status of an ex-defence professional and his or her son, an act of marriage will make no change to the status of a daughter. This came out in an order passed by a single-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court.

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The Karnataka HC ruled that the present choice of words in the defence profession needs to be gender neutralised. It has asked the Central Government not to refer to retired defence professionals as ex-servicemen. Setting the gender equation straight, the court proposed the gender-neutral nomenclature of ex-service personnel.

The Case in Question

Incidentally, ex-service personnel Ramesh Patil achieved martyrdom during Operation Parakram in 2001. Patil was a former Madras Engineer Group Subedar, whose surviving daughter Priyanka Patil was 10 years old at the time of his death. In 2021 she was refused a dependent card by the Sainik Welfare Board, citing her marital status as the reason. Ms Patil approached the Karnataka High Court the same year over the refusal.

The Karnataka government had set aside a 10% reservation for kin of ex-defence personnel while recruiting assistant professors in various Karnataka government degree colleges in 2020. Priyanka applied to the Board to be identified as an ex-serviceperson kin to avail of this reservation. The Sainik Welfare Board, however, maintained that the dependent card is issued to unmarried women only. 

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The Ruling

The Karnataka High Court examined similar cases and the position taken by courts in such cases. The court observed that any such gender-based discrimination was violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India which guarantees gender equality. The Karnataka High Court stated that by refusing a married daughter the benefits, the very purpose of the welfare schemes gets defeated. The same benefits would not have been refused if they are sought by a married son. Accordingly, these types of rules are symbolic of the gender stereotypes that existed in the decades gone by. Continuing with these rules would be detrimental to women's equality efforts. 

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Justice M Nagaprasanna strongly stated that the exclusion of married daughters from the granting of dependent cards violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian constitution. He stroked out the words “till married” from the guideline and also directed Karnataka Examination Authority to consider Priyanka Patil for the ex-service person quota in the Assistant Professor recruitments.