‘Chest measurement is outrageous’

‘The police does not have any such clause for women when recruiting them as constables, sub-inspectors or deputy superintendents.’

The Rajasthan high court has come down on heavily on the state government’s practice and criterion of taking women candidates’ chest measurement for appointment as a forest guard, terming it ‘unequivocally arbitrary and outrageous affront to a women’s dignity and a violation of the fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution’.

The court order on a civil writ petition has caused the Rajasthan government’s forest department much embarrassment and is likely to have administrative repercussions on the way women are recruited in the forest service.

The high court has sent a copy of the order marked to the chief secretary, forest department, and the department of personnel with an order to re-look into the criterion and seek expert opinion and explore alternatives to explore other eligibility norms, to ensure that unwarranted humiliation of women candidates is avoided.

However, the court has not stayed the recruitment process and those who have cleared the physical standard test would be given employment.

Justice Dinesh Mehta passed the order after hearing a civil writ petition filed by four women candidates for the post of forest guards in the forest department.

The four women candidates challenged the action of rejecting them on the parameters of the physical standard test.

These four candidates cleared the written examination in 2020 and appeared for the physical standard test.

Vandana Kanwar, Om Kanwar, and Manju Kamwar challenged their disqualification on the parameters of chest measurement despite clearing the physical efficiency tests.

The three petitioners submitted in court that their chest measurements were more than the required specification.

As per the parameters laid down by the Rajasthan government’s forest department, a female candidate was required to have a normal measurement of 79 cm and an expansion of five cm.

The petitioners approached the court with the assertion that their measurement was more than the norms set by the respondents.

Though a medical report by any other government hospital had not been placed on record, believing the petitioners’ assertion and because in similar matters indulgence has been granted, an interim order was also passed in the instant case by a coordinate bench of Rajasthan high court on July 27 this year.

Accordingly, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Jodhpur, was directed to undertake the measurement and report it to the court.

The AIIMS medical board found that all the three petitioners failed in the chest measurement tests and failed to meet the required norms.

Vandana Kanwar’s normal chest was 76.3 cm, but expanded was only 80.3 cm.

Om Kanwar’s normal was 74.5 cm and expanded 76.6 cm while Manju Kanwar’s normal was 80.8 cm and expanded 82.1 cm.

Thus the court found that the three petitioners failed to meet the required norms and rejected their petition.

Justice Dinesh Mehta observed that apparently, there was no error in the assessment of the petitioners by the respondents.

‘But this court is unable to come over the shock it got on seeing the parameters laid down by the state government for ascertaining physical standards of women candidates,’ the judge noted.

‘This court cannot but refrain from observing that the state government’s act of setting up chest measurement to be a criterion, particularly for female candidates, is absolutely arbitrary, rather outrageous to say the least.’

‘It is a clear dent on a lady’s dignity and right of privacy guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,’ the judge ruled.

The high court further observed that the size of the chest and its expansion in the case of a female candidate may not necessarily be a pointer of physical fitness and a litmus test of lung capacity.

Even if it be so, such measurement impinges upon or intrudes on the privacy of a woman.

Apart from being irrational, prescribing such a criterion disrupts the dignity, bodily autonomy, and mental integrity of a woman.

The recruitment has ended and all the candidates including the petitioners herein have subjected themselves to such test, hence, the court would not disturb the recruitment which has taken place, it said.

But some deliberation or observation is necessary about the very requirement of chest measurement so far as female candidates are concerned, may it be for a recruitment of forest guard or forester or any other post.

The order also read, ‘According to this court, the size of a woman’s chest is irrelevant for determining her strength. The qualifying criteria are based on incorrect assumptions that having a minimum chest girth would ensure the physical fitness of a woman.’

‘The practice adopted, apart from lacking any scientific validity, is humiliating, derogatory, and an affront to a woman’s dignity.

‘Considering that a candidate is otherwise required to clear physical efficiency test, in which she has to jump 1.35 metres (standing broad jump) and throw shot put (4 kg) to a distance of 4.5 metres, the condition of minimum chest circumference looks irrational and unwarranted.

‘The court is informed that no such test is being provided for recruitment to the post of police constable in the case of female candidates.’

Measuring expansion to determine lung capacity is understandable and can be accepted but prescribing a ‘minimum chest circumference’ is ludicrous and the same cannot be countenanced.

For such purpose, there are modern tests available and if the candidates do not wish to resort to such methods, they can well ask the candidates to run for a particular distance, as is being done by the state in police constable recruitments.

The order further said that the court was perturbed by the lack of sensitivity exhibited by the administrative authorities while formulating the hiring policy/rules.

Not only does it appear to be scientifically unfounded, but also immodest.

Furthermore, when the yardstick of minimum chest size is not provided for other government jobs involving comparable or more physical activity (such as police constables), one does not see any rhyme or reason behind the criterion in question, particularly for female candidates.

This judgment would mean the state government will have to formulate new rules for judging the physical standard of the candidates for the forest field jobs.

“We follow the specific guidelines of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, in its model guidelines, has prescribed physical standards for measuring the height and chest of both men and women during the recruitment process and all the states follow the guidelines of the Union ministry,” an official of the Rajasthan forest department stated.

Only women doctors and staff are deployed for taking physical measurements of women candidates during the recruitment process.

“The police does not have any such clause for women when recruiting them as constables, sub-inspectors or deputy superintendents. But, there is another question that has to be answered,” the official said.

“Is recruiting women as forest guards justifiable as they have to guard the forest with wildlife around? Would they be able to withstand the pressure of living in a jungle far away from the family? Often there are no shelters and wherever there are shelters it lacks facilities like a toilet,” the official stated.

“Often these forest guards are attacked by wild animals or poachers. The government should rethink whether recruiting women as forest guards would serve the larger purpose,” said Tapeshwar Singh Bhati, advocate and activist.

Deep Narayan Pandey of the Indian Forest Service, who recently retired as the chief principal conservator of forests, did not agree with Bhati and said Indian women have even fought wars.

“Women are also needed for protecting our forests as they are capable of handling everything. All the forces are encouraging women to take up challenging jobs which were not held by women. In Rajasthan, Shruti Sharma held the post of chief principal conservator of forests. There cannot be a better example than this,” Pandey said.

Whatever be the case, the court’s observation and directives means the state government will have to find an alternate method that is not an ‘unequivocally arbitrary and outrageous’ affront to a woman’s dignity and a violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

The state government will review the court order and may go for legal redress by appealing against the order.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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