Creche with space for 30 children: SC makes space for children, mental space for lawyer or staff-parents

From the “dingy, cramped” space Bhagwan Das Road that only had “child-minding services” at a monthly fee of Rs 5,000, the current creche can hold 30 children. The fee is capped at Rs 1,500 per month.

Written by Sowmiya Ashok

2,000 sq ft creche with space for 30 children: SC makes space for children, mental space for lawyer or staff-parents

An hour after judges in black robes had inspected the new creche on the Supreme Court campus, one-year-old Neel bawled his eyes out in the arms of a stranger. It was his first afternoon away from his parents, who, he did know, were hiding behind a door.

His father, practising in the Supreme Court, and his mother, who works at a consultancy in Gurgaon with no creche but 100 women employees, watched their son through a CCTV camera. “Make sure he doesn’t see you, or he will not settle down,” Madhu Arora, the creche’s secretary, warned Neel’s parents.

Just before 2 pm on Wednesday, Neel, Akhil, Devika, Garvita and Samvritha, all under the age of two, took turns to bawl when Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra handed them toys made of recycled material inside one of the activity areas in the new creche. This prompted Justice Navin Sinha to comment that it was an obvious reaction to seeing “so many people in black robes.”

Led by CJI Misra, judges walked past the reception area, into the sleeping room where two children napped. Here, Justice A M Sapre joked to a colleague, “We should also come here once in a while.”

The team of judges then walked across the spacious activity room with a soft mat running across the floor, into the play area with a tiny plastic slide, before exiting. Along the way was the feeding room for new mothers, the pantry, and toilets.

Within minutes, the judges had walked across the 2,000-square-foot creche – a huge improvement from the two-room childcare centre earlier functioning on Bhagwan Das Road since November 2015 — and into the 500 sq ft area for refreshments.

Kavitha Subash, 34, who stood holding Samvritha, told The Indian Express that she could now work in peace. “When my child was four months old, I used to carry her to court. It helps that my husband is a lawyer too. So before entering a court to argue my case, I handed my daughter to either my husband or my clerk, argued the case, and then ran out to pick her up,” she said.

Kavitha’s in-laws and her parents live in Kerala. “I really have no choice but to bring her to my workplace. It is unfortunate that society thinks that ‘mummy will take leave to care of the child and figure it out’.”

Pratibha Sharma, the creche in-charge, said she left two jobs when her children were small, and never wants any mother to have to make that choice. “I know exactly how others (mothers) feel about their children. Everyone is looking for a safe space for their kids while they do their job.”

In 2015, it was another mother who spent a lot of time on the Supreme Court lawns with her then little daughter, and pushed for a creche on the court’s premises. “My child was quite small and I couldn’t just take time off to look after her,” said Anindita Pujari, who went on to file a writ petition seeking a fully-functional creche for kids of working parents. “I was working on the NJAC case that came up for hearing that summer, during the vacation. The validity of the NJAC Act was question – it was struck down, and that is how the collegium is back.”

On Wednesday afternoon, incidentally, the collegium met to reconsider the elevation of Justice K M Joseph, and the decision was differed.

From the “dingy, cramped” space Bhagwan Das Road that only had “child-minding services” at a monthly fee of Rs 5,000, the current creche can hold 30 children. The fee is capped at Rs 1,500 per month.

Nineteen children enrolled on the inaugural morning on Wednesday. The cap of 30 is divided – 12 earmarked for children of members of the SC Bar Association, 12 for children of SC registry staff, three for children of advocates’ clerk, and three more for a “guest child” who can use the facility for a day or two.

“We had to advice them a little differently since it is the Supreme Court,” Amrita Jain, chairperson of the NGO Mobile Creches, who was consulted for setting up of the creche, said. “We usually work with underprivileged children where we provide simple and nutritious food. Here we had to suggest a meal plan which did not have biscuits, packaged food and aerated drinks.”

The biggest challenge was changing attitude, Mobile Creches executive director Sumitra Mishra said. “If we were training 15 people, we’d like all of them to learn to be well-equipped in all tasks. But we noticed a hierarchy of tasks – one would feed the child, the other would change nappies. That attitude had to go; we wanted everyone to do everything.”

But, for now, the creche in the apex court, which has ruled on landmark judgments mandating workspaces to have child-friendly spaces, is among a handful across the country where parents can come to work with their children. “Talk about a space that encourages inclusivity and equity,” Jain said. “ Last week, a Delhi Police woman personnel who protects the Supreme Court came to ask if she can bring her child to the creche and she was refused.”

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