Fired for marriage, this military nurse from Kerala fought an archaic army law and won

Ex. Lt. Selina John. Photo: Special arrangement

Chennai: Ex. Lt. Selina John who won a three-decade-long legal battle after she was released from military nursing service in 1988 due to her marriage says her battle was against gender bias. On February 14, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to pay a compensation of Rs 60 lakh to Selina John. For Selina, it was a long road to justice, but she never gave up. Starting with a petition at the Allahabad High court, she moved the Armed Forces Tribunal and then it went to Supreme Court. In the meantime, her service period expired and she passed her retirement age.

"I am glad to have won this battle,but I lost my career, I wish I received either a pension or more compensation. It was a battle against a law rooted in gender bias, it was a question of equality," she told Onmanorama. Selina John, 61, a resident of Piravam in Ernakulam was a commerce graduate from DB College, Thalayolaparambu. She then did her diploma in Nursing.

It was a newspaper advertisement that paved the way for her to Military nursing service. In a family of eight children, she was the first to bag a job, that too at the Military service. Her father P C Yohannan, who ran an oil mill and her mother Annamma had high hopes on her, she says. " I come from a middle class family and my father was doing business. Getting a job in MNS made them feel so proud of me. I became the first earning member among my siblings and everyone was so happy for me,'' recalls Selina.

She joined the service in 1982, got trained at Army hospital Delhi cantt and was posted at Military hospital, Secunderabad in 1986. It was there she met Ex. Lt. Colonel Dr Vinod Raghavan, whom she would marry later. Selina was then transferred to Danapur, Bihar where she got married to Dr Vinod Raghavan, a resident of Kozhikode.

Life seemed bright for Selina then. She still remembers the day when she got the worst shock of her life. "I was returning to Danapur from Kerala after my leave. It was my husband who received the letter saying that I was being released. He rushed to the station and when I arrived, he told me about the letter. " I was shocked, felt numb, because I had barely started my career. My parents were also shattered," says Selina. Initially they decided not to fight the case. She had to take care of the children. "At some point, I thought I should fight this and everybody supported me," says Selina.

Ex. Lt. Selina John with her family. Photo: Special arrangement

She was released from service based on Army Instruction No. 61 of 1977 titled 'Terms and conditions of service for the grant of permanent commissions in the Military Nursing Service'. This was later withdrawn in 1995.

The Supreme Court observed that it was unable to accept any submission that Ex. Lt. Selina John, who was a Permanent Commissioned Officer in the Military Nursing Service, could have been released/discharged on the ground that she had got married. " This rule, it is accepted, was applicable to only women nursing officers. Acceptance of such patriarchal rule undermines human dignity, right to non-discrimination and fair treatment," the SC observed adding that terminating employment because the woman has got married is a coarse case of gender discrimination and inequality.

"This verdict sends out a message that equality should prevail. She was so certain it was a wrong law. Selina John has not only won for herself but also for other women," says Wg.Cdr.(Retd.) Advocate Ajit Kakkar who appeared for Selina John.

Selina John now stays with her daughter Sruthi Vinod in Chennai. Her son Dr.Sidharth Vinod is employed at CMC, Vellore.

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