Can Air India Refuse to Hire a Transgender Air Hostess? Here’s What the Law Says

On August 4, 2017, she got called to attend an interview. While she fared well in the test, she was not shortlisted for the post. Despite attempting the test four times, she failed to qualify in the final list.

This is the story of Shanavi Ponnusamy, who was born as a male but adopted the sex of a female at the age of 25, after undergoing a sex-change operation.

She was recruited by Air India as a ground staff at the customer support section of the Chennai Airport. She undertook and completed a 13-month course to be a part of flight cabin crew. On July 10, 2017, in response to an advertisement placed by Air India seeking female air hostesses, Shanavi applied for the position.

On August 4, 2017, she got called to attend an interview. While she fared well in the test, she was not shortlisted for the post. Despite attempting the test four times, she failed to qualify in the final list.

She was informed that her gender was the reason why her application for the job was not considered because the post is reserved only for women.

Shanavi then approached the Apex Court seeking intervention for the blatant discrimination meted out to her by Air India.

The national carrier
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons


In 2014, the Supreme Court recognised the transgender community as a third gender along with male and female. The Bench comprising of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and A.K. Sikri, said “recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue. Transgenders are also citizens of India. The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.”

With this order, all identity documents, including a birth certificate, passport, ration card and driving licence are to recognise the third gender.

In light of this, Air India’s denial in considering Shanavi for the position of the air hostesses is an act that is banned by law.

The petitioner, Shanavi Ponnusamy
Photo Source: Facebook

Reena Rai, founder TransQueen India says, “A majority of people and companies do not want to be seen associating with transgenders. The impression that people have about transgenders is is unfortunately very negative. The good news is that while there are organisations like Air India that is denying a transgender an opportunity, there are others who wilingly employ transgenders.”

Questioning the rejection, she says, “What does gender have to do with the calibre and dedication one brings to the job?”

Reena Rai
Photo Source: Facebook

Sunieta Ojha, a partner at TRS Law Offices, says, “Legally speaking, the petitioner is well within her rights to demand to be employed. Even on an earlier occasion, the national carrier came under flak for grounding 57 cabin crew members for being ‘overweight’. Subsequently, there was a change in policy. Going by that same principle, there is no reason for the petitioner’s application to be rejected on the basis of gender.”

She also said that being the national carrier one would expect them to be the torchbearers of progressive thinking so this step, in fact, is regressive in nature.

An Outlook report stated that Air India later responded to Shanavi’s petition, claiming that she would be called in the future as and when they create a category for her.

However, the point is that the national carrier should have ensured that all genders are taking into consideration for the position. That would be in keeping with the Supreme Court order of 2014.

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