Public Policy

Working Women in India

Women in India

Our heritage is about five thousand years old by now, if not more. In the ancient time, Indian women used to command great respect. Motherhood was adored. A wife was taken as an equal partner no Yagya would be performed without a ‘Sahadharmmi’. In the field of education also women were in the forefront. Names of Gargi Litavati and Bidyavati come to mind in this connection. Other hallowed names are those of Sita, Savitri and Ahilya, Place of pride given to the married women is apparent from the fact that they were called ‘Ardhanginis’. So much of independence was given to the girls of marriageable age that they could select their spouses in a ‘Swayambar’. There was no taboo and no abortion was practised because of female foetus in the womb. Females were leading an absolutely uninhibitated life.

In the childhood women depended upon their parents, after marriage upon their husbands and in old days on their sons. A desire for emancipation, therefore, grew and Indian women broke the barriers of home and came out in open to earn their livelihood, thereby making their own contribution to the income of the family and also to the growth of the nation. The Indian independence movement saw in a big way the emergence of Indian women on the national scene leading ultimately to the occupation of exalled office of the Prima Minister of the country by an Indian woman. Not only this, the first lady to become the President of the United Nations was an Indian, Indian women have not retraced their steps. More and more members of this section of the society are coming forward and contributing their mite not only to the sustenance of their family but to the growth of the nation also, ‘working women’ is thus a new phenomenon in the Indian history. As their awakening is in greater social good, every effort has to be made to see that they are properly protected by the laws of the land in their desire to prove themselves as an equal partner in the task of national reconstruction.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India

Article 21 has been described by Bhagwati, Judge (as he then was) in Francis Coralie v. The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi[1]  as “most fundamental of fundamental Rights“. It was stated that the “fundamental right to life is the most precious human right”.   Right to life includes the right to live with Human Dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessities of life, such as, adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head among some other named things. Article 21 protects not only every limb, but every faculty through which life is enjoyed. So, it is obvious that the right to life enshrined in Article 21 cannot be restricted to mere animal existence[2].  Sabyasachi Mukharji, Judge (as he then was) stated in Ramsharan v. Union of India[3] that “life in its expanded horizons today includes all that give meaning to a man’s life including his tradition, culture and heritage, and protection of that heritage in its full measure could certainly come within the encompass of an expanded concept of Article 21 of the Constitution”.

Housing is an integral part of the right to life

It would be apposite to refer to Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which housing has been specifically recognized as one of the rights relating to ‘living’. Article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 also recognizes ‘housing’ as a part of right to adequate standard of living. In C.B.S.C. Ltd. v. Subhash Chandra[4]  it was stated that housing is an integral part of the right to life. In Olga Tellia[5]  the petitioners were dwelling on pavements or in slums for the purpose of pursuing their lawful activities. Court observed if the petitioners are evicted from their dwellings, they will be deprived of their own livelihood. So, occupation of the dwellings was regarded as a part of the right of livelihood.

Working Women right to live in Hostel

Working women hostel is not meant to accommodate working women for their entire service career, but to do so for a limited period of years, so that during this period they could find out alternative accommodation and the hostel authorities could make the space available to other incumbents. The right to reside in the hostel cannot be said to be a part of right to livelihood. Providing hostel accommodation for the working women is not a public duty. The reason is that the Government in any democracy has the duty to educate its citizens at any cost even though it may entail expenditure on the exchequer and no profit is contemplated because imparting of education is a public duty to the people at large and any body in that field catering education must be treated to be in the field of catering public service. But the Government has no obligatory duty whatsoever in providing accommodation to working people or poorly paid employees. No body can make any grievance in law against the State if at places where there are number of working women, hostels are not constructed. In a welfare society the Government takes many measures for providing better facilities and this is one of such endeavour in that direction but it cannot be an obligatory public duty.

In a hostel where many young women reside, strict discipline is necessary and in that direction if it is required that they must come to the hostel in time or to sign the late coming register in the event they come late at night, there was nothing wrong and the inmates of the hostel who desired to come to stay in the hostel by accepting the condition of the hostel cannot make a grievance against these conditions subsequently which would cause complete indiscipline in the hostel administration. If the discipline of the hostel is lost the reputation of the hostel may be in jeopardy.

About the Author

kushKush Kalra

Kush is a practicing lawyer at Delhi High Court. He graduated from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, India in 2012 and has authored a book titled – Be Your Own Lawyer.





[1] AIR 1981 SC 746

[2] Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1963 AIR 1295

[3] 1989 AIR 549

[4] MANU/SC/0466/1992

[5] 1986 AIR 180

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