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Transwoman sues Air India for denying her job, airline to sue her back for ‘loss of goodwill’

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In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, Air India says Shanavi Ponnusamy’s ‘frivolous’ plea has harmed its reputation and affected its disinvestment bid.

New Delhi: Flag carrier Air India is looking to sue a transwoman for defamation after she took the airline to court over alleged discrimination in recruitment.

Moving the Supreme Court after she was denied a job at the airline four times, Shanavi Ponnusamy, 29, alleged that Air India did not have a policy in place to hire transgenders.

Defending its policy, Air India has told the court that the plea could affect its disinvestment bid.

“As a result of the frivolous petition, (Air India) has suffered an immense loss to its goodwill and reputation, for which it reserves the right to sue the petitioner for damages,” the company said in an affidavit.

Despite the 2014 Supreme Court ruling granting legal recognition to transgenders and eunuchs as the “third gender”, the air carrier hires people who identify as such under the traditional gender categories.

In 2016, Shanavi applied for a cabin crew position with Air India after working for over a year at Sutherland Global Services, a private firm involved in the civil aviation sector, and also as a model.

Over the course of a year, she made multiple job applications under the ‘female’ category, but all were turned down by Air India. Though Shanavi met the eligibility criteria specified for women, she did not obtain the requisite score in the airline’s subjective assessment.

Shanavi Ponnusamy
Shanavi Ponnusamy | By special arrangement

“In my first attempt, I told Air India that I am a transwoman and cannot apply under the ‘female’ category. Since my application itself was denied, I applied as a ‘female’. However, all their tests are a subjective assessment of personality,” Shanavi told ThePrint.

“Since they already know I am a transwoman, I have not escaped their discrimination,” she said.

Born male, Shanavi also had a male name that she eventually got changed legally, a change reflected in her certificates.

Even so, she said, getting a job in the private sector is easy. “Everyone is first interviewed based on qualifications and your certificates are verified once you have the job. For government jobs, the process begins with vetting certificates and then assessing the candidate,” she added.

In her two-year fight with Air India, Shanavi has also written to President Ram Nath Kovind and PM Narendra Modi seeking their intervention. PM Modi’s office responded, but only to inform her that Air India’s current policy had no place to accommodate a separate transgender category.

However, Shanavi said she found an ally in a senior bureaucrat in the civil aviation ministry, Anshul Mishra.

“He personally called up a higher-up in Air India and said they should change their policy. But that person disagreed and said I was trying to force them into hiring me,” she said.

In the affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, Air India said they had always stood for gender equality. As “proof”, it cited the all-women crew that flew around the world to mark this year’s International Women’s day.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, who is now appearing for Shanavi, told the court that the hiring policy itself had to change. “She is a transgender and to test her as a woman would be incorrect,” he said.

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  1. Is there a hiring policy separate for transgenders , women and men?
    Why should Air India be the WHIPPING BOY for any and every TOM, DICK and HARRY?
    Any and every sundry sermonizes against AI.
    Enough is enough.

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