“When was the date of your last period?”
It’s a question usually reserved for the privacy of a doctor’s office, but Canara Bank is apparently no less interested in intimate workings of a woman’s body. Its women applicants were asked to give an account of their menstrual history, date of their last period and whether they were suffering from any breasts- or uterus- related ailments. According to a TOI report, candidates were also asked if they were pregnant, as pregnancy would be grounds for immediate disqualification.
The bank applications were used as a recruitment drive to hire over 1,000 clerical employees across the country, including 300 for Kerala, according to Canara Bank Staff Union Central Committee member and BEFI state Secretary S S Anil Kumar.
The 150 new clerical staff who joined duty on July 7 were asked to produce their medical reports. The questions about menstruation and pregnancy were part of a longer questionnaire that asked if the new recruits suffered from a variety of ailments including hypertension, diabetes, TB, cancer, HIV positive, hepatitis or any other chronic or contagious diseases. Instructions had been given stating that if the candidates were found to be suffering from any of the chronic ailments, they would not be recruited, Kumar said.
“The candidates were being recruited for clerical work in the bank and not for the Army,” Kumar said, adding “that stipulations were against constitutional provisions on right to live and right to work.” He said this was the first time a public sector bank had bought in such terms and conditions while recruiting employees.
The bank has withdrawn their “new form” after protests by its employees in various parts of Kerala, including Kozhikode and Kochi.
“Yes such information was sought. Many other banks follow this process and ask for such information; however, we withdrew it around last week as soon as we received some objection stating why such personal information needs to be shared,” Canara Bank General Manager (HR) Shyamalendu Saha in Bangalore told PTI, He added that the next batch of recruits have been asked not to fill the objectionable form.
Thank god for that. But it is clear from his response that the bank is still unable to see what it did wrong.
The bank official claims that “no new recruits protested against the format,” which is hardly surprising. In a country where even a clerical job that doesn’t pay much has thousands of applicants, no one is likely to object.
Putting the bank’s interest in gathering medical history, since when do periods or pregnancy qualify as an ‘ailment’ — questions that were reserved only for women candidates, and display a complete disregard for gender equity.
As K Chandru, former judge of the Madras high court told TOI, these questions would amount to violations of Articles 14 to 16 of the Constitution. He added that, “The Supreme Court had shot down such insensitive practices in a case related to the Life Insurance Corporation of India recruitment.”
Article 14 of the Constitution deals with equality before law and says that “The State shallnot deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
Article 16 of the Constitution deals with equality of opportunity when it comes employment in public services. The article’s first part reads,
“(a) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State
(b) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect or, any employment or office under the State.”
Given that Canara Bank is a public sector bank, denying women candidates jobs simply on the basis of their gender ( aka the fact that they are pregnant) is clearly a violation of the constitution’s above mentioned articles.
It also points to the way a woman’s natural body functions are used as the basis for gender discrimination.
And this phobia against periods isn’t just a new problem. In a place like the Army or Air Force, women candidates continue to face discrimination. For instance the IAF boss in March this year justified why women can’t fly fighter jets in our country,
IAF boss Arup Raha in March this year did exactly that when asked why women are not allowed to fly fighter jets. “As far as flying fighter planes is concerned, it’s a very challenging job. Women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems,” he said. Health problems being a code for periods, of course. Never mind that women are already flying fighter jets in America, Russia, and even Pakistan
The Canara Bank form is just another reminder of the personal humiliation that women are made to feel simply because of biology. It is the modern version of age-old taboos that kept women segregated and isolated in their own home during “that time” of the month because they were seen as unclean. Many of those old norms are dying out at least in the cities, but as Canara Bank reveals, they may have just been reincarnated in new forms.