SC GRANTS PERMANENT COMMISSION TO WOMEN ARMY OFFICERS
Context: In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on February 17, directed that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission and command postings.
THE SC JUDGEMENT
- The SC rejected the Centre’s stand of their physiological limitations as being based on “sex stereotypes” and “gender discrimination against women”.
- The apex court directed that within three months, all serving SSC women officers have to be considered for Permanent Commissions (PCs) irrespective of them having crossed 14 years or, as the case may be, 20 years of service.
- It said however that the question of combat posting of women officers is a policy decision and was not dealt by the Delhi High Court in its 2010 verdict.
- The top court accepted the Centre’s policy of February 25, 2019 to grant PCs to Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers in all the 10 streams in the Indian Army.
- A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi rejected the Centre”s submission that women officers cannot be granted PCs due to physiological limitations, all-male environment in a unit, combat capability and said that mindset change is required to recognize the values of the Constitution.
- To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army men and women who serve as equal citizens in a common mission,” the bench said.
- An absolute bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with the guarantee of equality under Article 14.
- The blanket non-consideration of women for criteria or command appointments absent an individuated justification by the Army cannot be sustained in law
- Last year, women officers were granted permanent commission (PC) in all 10 branches of the Indian Army.
- The Centre decided to grant permanent commission to women officers inducted in branches such as signals, engineers, army aviation, army air defence, electronics and mechanical engineers, army service corps, army ordinance corps and intelligence.
- The Centre had argued that permanent commission will be given to only those women officers who joined the forces after 2014.
- The decision of the Defence Ministry had opened opportunities to women officers in the Indian Army to serve for a longer duration and to pursue permanent careers in all branches like their male counterparts.
- In April, the Army had also had kicked off the process of inducting women as jawans by starting their online registration for recruitment in the corps of military police.
WOMEN IN COMBAT ROLES
- Women already serve in combat roles in the air force, which last year qualified its first women fighter pilots.
- Navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, pointed out in December that women naval officers already perform combat tasks, such as firing torpedoes and missiles at enemy warships while serving as observers and weapons systems officers on board maritime aircraft like the P-8I Poseidon.
- Women officers also serve on board naval warships in combat, albeit discharging non-combat roles.
- However, there remains strong institutional resistance to allowing women into combat roles in the army, where the infantry, armoured corps, mechanised infantry, army aviation and artillery could often be involved in close-in, hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy.
- In contrast, just 3.8 per cent of the army’s 42,253 officers, 6 per cent of the navy’s 10,393 officers and 13.1 per cent of the air force’s 12,404 officers are women. Many young women say they are deterred from joining the military because of the SSC restrictions.
- The Supreme Court verdict granting permanent commission (PC) and command positions for women officers is a watershed moment and success against stereotypical mindset and attitude.
- It is an important step towards granting women the right to serve in the military on equal terms with men
- This opens the doors for women to command military units, such as logistics, signals or engineer regiments, thus placing them in the position of leading bodies of 500-600 men in combat support duties.
- Importantly, this Supreme Court ruling does not grant women the right to serve in combat units. However, it dismisses the government’s contention that women would be permitted to serve only in staff assignments, and not in command billets.
- Now the Supreme Court ruling will allow women to opt for PRC at the time they join, without the periodic reviews and extensions inherent in the SSC route.
- The judgment cited 11 examples of women officers who had performed acts of gallantry or exemplary service.
The Supreme Court verdict granting permanent commission (PC) and command positions for women officers is a watershed moment and success against stereotypical mindset and attitude. In the light of the above statement discuss the significance of the SC verdict. (15 marks).