In a significantly progressive move, Calicut University grants pregnant students maternity leave.
Three years ago, a heavily pregnant Resya P. would travel 60 km everyday from home to college and back by bus. “Most times, I would stand the whole distance, clinging on for dear life, as the bus heaved, twisted and turned,” says Resya, who was then a MCA (Master of Computer Applications) student in the University of Calicut.
She did not dare take leave because long leave meant the notoriety of having your name published in the ‘year-out’ list of students who have fallen short of the required attendance. She would be banned from writing the semester exam, and writing it on the second attempt would not be considered as being on par with the first. “Is expecting a child while being a student a crime?” asks Resya, now the mother of two and an IT officer in a co-operative bank.
She asked this question in a 2011 complaint to the Students’ Welfare Department. Today, it has led to a historical amendment, with the university granting long-term maternity leave to students, probably for the first time in the country.
On July 17, the university senate amended the MCA course regulations to help students avail the new maternity benefits. The process is now on to extend the regulation to students in other courses, especially professional ones, such as MBBS, BDS and BHMS.
“Remember, this was her (Resya’s) plight in a university where 65-70 per cent of the students are women,” says Professor K.A. Siraj, university syndicate member, who pushed for the reform. If the problem had to be solved, it could be done only through a comprehensive amendment of the regulations. The Board of Adjudication of Students Grievances referred the issue to the Academic Council for a permanent solution,” says Dr. P.V. Valsarajan, Dean, Students’ Welfare.
“I had to undergo a Caesarean; the doctor had advised me complete bed rest for three months. I could not attend classes regularly,” recalls Resya. Despite explaining in the leave application that she was on the verge of an abortion, “I could not make the authorities realise that I had a serious health issue and was not malingering. I kept telling them I had tried my best to be regular and they should treat it as a special case.”
Resya finally filed a written complaint with the Students Grievances Redress Cell. “I did it so that no other woman who wanted to study and at the same time be a mother would suffer the insults and callous attitude of the authorities,” she says.
Interestingly, the student welfare department says that the order does not specify the status of the mother-to-be to grant her maternity leave. One hopes, therefore, that unwed mothers will also get the same benefits. That would be huge progress indeed.
As Resya says, “I considered both my studies and bringing a child to this world as divine. I was not willing to compromise one for the other.”