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Sacked while pregnant, lady sues company

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ANANYA SENGUPTA   |   Published 07.08.12, 12:00 AM

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Indrani Chakraverty had been working for a Delhi design firm for four years. Suddenly in August 2009, when she was carrying her first child, she was told over phone that she was sacked.

It would have been the usual story of corporate whim had Indrani, a 32-year-old woman with a master’s in graphic designing from London, not decided to go to court.

She filed a criminal case against Idiom Consulting Ltd — it designed the art work for the 2010 Commonwealth Games — for violating the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which forbids an employer from terminating the services of a pregnant woman unless there are complaints of “gross misconduct” against her.

On July 26, Indrani won Rs 7.5 lakh as settlement money from the company on orders from Delhi High Court.

A Bengali born and brought up in Ahmedabad, Indrani knew she could have won greater damages had she filed a civil suit. But for her, it was the message — not the money — that was important.

“It was because we filed a criminal case and the court issued summons to five officials that the company agreed to settle the case. Many women don’t even know they can file a criminal case and ensure officials of such companies are punished,” said Namita Roy, Indrani’s lawyer.

“This is so rampant in the private sector that many women are terminated from service because they are pregnant. I know of no case where a pregnant woman has taken a company to court and filed a criminal case under the maternity benefit act,” said Namita Roy, Indrani’s lawyer.

Roy said things began to get difficult for Indrani as soon as she informed her company she was pregnant — she was asked to report to different offices and even transferred to a different city.

“I was good, so they transferred me from Bangalore to Delhi when I got married. Just a month before they terminated me, they gave me an out-of-turn hike,” Indrani said.

“The only thing that changed was I was pregnant and unable to give them the 24x7 time I gave them earlier. Also, it’s not that I didn’t work while I was pregnant. I delivered the CWG designs just before I was terminated.”

The trial court summoned the five officials on the basis of emails exchanged between them and Indrani, saying there was enough evidence to proceed against them. It observed that the act of the company seemed exploitative and well thought out.

“It is manifest that a tough option was followed by even tougher one. As if the option of taking half the salary home was not inconvenient enough, it was followed up by expecting the pregnant complainant to relocate to Bangalore in the middle of her pregnancy,” the court said.

The lower court’s order that the accused should face trial was challenged in Delhi High Court. The high court ordered that Indrani should be paid Rs 7.5 lakh as settlement if criminal proceedings against the company were to be dropped.

“I want to tell all women that please fight for what you deserve,” Indrani said.

“Don’t think that nothing happens in this country. Get that attitude out of your minds. Give these companies a tough time for seeing women as liabilities as soon as they are pregnant.”

She has yet to get three months’ salary from her company, though.

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