Permanent Commission to Women-in-Army
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Permanent Commission to Women-in-Army

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Permanent Commission to Women-in-Army

Why in the news?

Recently, In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court (SC) has upheld a Delhi High Court order of 2010 that seeks to grant permanent commission to women officers at par with their male counterparts.

Along with granting a role to women in combat arms, the judgment essentially highlights the denial of equal opportunity in their existing roles for promotion to higher commands.

Background::

The induction of women officers in the Army started in 1992.

They were commissioned for a period of five years in certain chosen streams such as Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps, and Corps of Engineers.

Recruits under the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) had a shorter pre-commission training period than their male counterparts who were commissioned under the Short Service Commission (SSC) scheme.

In 2006, the WSES scheme was replaced with the SSC scheme, which was extended to women officers.

They were commissioned for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years. Serving WSES officers were given the option to move to the new SSC scheme or to continue under the erstwhile WSES.

They were to be, however, restricted to roles in streams specified earlier which excluded combat arms such as infantry and armored corps.

While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers.

They were kept out of any command appointment, and couldn’t qualify for government pension that starts after 20 years of service as an officer.

Earlier Judgements and Decisions::

In 2003 a PIL and 2006 a writ petition was filed in Delhi High Court to seek permanent commission for women officers.

In 2008, Govt also took decisions to grant permanent Commission to SSC women officers in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) department and the Army Education Corps (AEC). This was challenged in Delhi HC.

In 2010 Delhi HC in its judgment granted PC for women officers of Indian Air force and Army on SSC who instituted the case and who had retired during the pendency of the case.

The Govt. Challenged the HC order and in 2019 it granted PC to SSC women officers in 8 streams of the Army, including JAG and AEC to serve only in staff posts(not command appointments).

Govt.’s Arguments and SC Judgement::

Govt.’s concerns were

Women's family, pregnancy, and child birth could be major issues.

In conflict zones, there are “minimal facilities for habitat and hygiene”.This can be a bigger problem for them.

The risk of being captured by the enemy and treated as prisoners of war.

The Hon’ble SC criticized Govt’s arguments - It said that the Govt has an age-old patriarchal notion that domestic obligations rested only with women.

The court also dismissed the point that women are physiologically weaker than men as a “sex stereotype”.

It has also said that it only shows the need to emphasize the need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army.

It has done away with all discrimination based on years of service for grant of PC in the Army, bringing them on a par with male officers.

It has also removed the restriction of women officers only being allowed to serve in staff appointments, which is the most significant and far-reaching aspect of the judgment.

Way Forward::

Women officers will be eligible for all the command appointments, at par with male officers.

This would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them.

Women officers would be attending the same training courses as of their male counterparts and tenanting critical appointments, which are necessary for higher promotions.

The spirit of the order is the principle of non-discrimination. According to Article 16, Gender only cannot serve as the basis for inequitable and unequal treatment in any sphere, including in defense forces.

It also upheld the right to equality under Article 14 

The defense forces will have to change policy to comply.

But the bigger shift will have to take place in the culture, norms, and values of the rank and file of the Army, which will be the responsibility of the senior military and political leadership

Conclusion::

Gender equality can be achieved by establishing professional standards and adhering to them without any bias. The Army and the political leadership must accept it and the citizens of the country should embrace the decision of the apex court. Indian armed forces must draw inspiration from other countries like Israel, Germany, the US, and Australia and move towards gender mainstreaming in the Indian armed forces.