The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently made a significant decision by refraining from using gendered terminology while referring to a female teacher’s position, which the Punjab Government traditionally labels as “mistress.” In a case involving a plea by Neetu Sharma, who applied for the post of Punjabi Language Mistress, Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma opted to refer to the position as “Teacher” instead, aligning with the Supreme Court’s emphasis on using appropriate language when addressing gender.

The court’s decision stemmed from a petition filed by Neetu Sharma challenging the appointment of certain teachers and seeking her appointment instead, citing higher merit than the appointed candidates. Sharma alleged wrongful appointment of six teachers who were lower in merit and argued that they should not have been appointed over candidates with higher merit, including herself.

The case also delved into the issue of preference given to candidates in the Freedom Fighter category for Punjabi Language Teachers. The selection process considered various circulars issued by the State government regarding reservation and preference for candidates claiming to be descendants of Freedom Fighters.

The Court noted discrepancies in the application forms of the candidates, with some claiming to be sons/daughters of Freedom Fighters and others claiming to be grandchildren. Despite this, the Selection Committee gave preferential treatment to certain candidates, leading to Sharma being deprived of her rightful claim for appointment.

Justice Sharma criticized the casual approach adopted by the State Government in conducting the selection process and ruled in favor of Sharma. He directed the respondent-State to consider her case for appointment from the date when others were appointed, acknowledging her higher merit. However, the appointed teachers were allowed to continue their roles, albeit with seniority falling below Sharma.

Sharma was entitled to consequential benefits including seniority, confirmation, and pay fixation. The court ordered that arrears be paid notionally, with Sharma entitled to actual benefits from the date of the court’s order after salary fixation.

This decision underscores the importance of using gender-neutral language and combating gender stereotypes in legal discourse. It aligns with the Supreme Court’s efforts to promote gender-sensitive language, as highlighted in the ‘Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes’ released last year. Chief Justice DY Chandrachud emphasized the role of language in conveying legal values and societal perceptions, urging judges to refrain from using antiquated or incorrect ideas about women in judicial discourse.

By refraining from using the term “mistress” and instead referring to the position as “Teacher,” the Punjab and Haryana High Court sets a progressive precedent for gender-inclusive language in legal proceedings. This decision reflects a commitment to promoting gender equality and challenging stereotypes in the legal profession.

The case of Neetu Sharma v. State of Punjab and others marks a step forward in the ongoing effort to eliminate gender bias and promote inclusivity in legal language and practice.

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