The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Centre to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Indian Army, respecting the 2010 order of the Delhi High Court in this regard, ANI reported. The court also ruled that women officers can get “command and criteria” appointments in the Army on par with their male counterparts, NDTV reported.
The top court said permanent commission has to be provided to all women officers in the Army regardless of their years of service. It also said that its directive should be implemented within three months.
The court said that the recruitment of women in the Armed Forces is an “evolutionary process”. Justice DY Chandrachud added that the policy decisions of the Centre regarding the employment of women officers in the Army are “very unique”.
The Supreme Court made the observations while hearing the Centre’s plea against women in the Army getting command appointments on par with male officers. The top court was also hearing a petition on giving women who have served 14 years in the short service commission in the Army the option of a permanent commission.
“The Centre waited for nine years before coming out with a notification in 2019 allowing permanent commission to women in eight streams,” the court said, according to the Hindustan Times. “The Centre’s policy decision of 2019 recognises that physiological features has no role in allowing permanent commissions to women officers.”
On February 5, the Supreme Court had said that a “change in mindset” and administrative will are required before women can be given permanent commission in the Army.
On February 4, the court had criticised the Centre for submissions it made as to why women cannot be given permanent commission. The next day, the Centre clarified its stand. “Women should not strive to be equal to men,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claimed. “They are in fact way above men.”
The Centre made the submissions in a plea by the defence ministry challenging a 2010 judgement of the Delhi High Court, which had ruled that short service commissioned women officers in the Army and Air Force should be granted permanent commission. The Centre put forward a proposal that short-service commissioned women officers with up to 14 years of service would be considered for permanent commission.
The Centre had submitted a written note to the Supreme Court. It said: “Inherent physiological differences between men and women preclude equal physical performance resulting in lower physical standards and hence the physical capacity of women officers in the Indian Army remain a challenge for command of units.”
The Supreme Court said on Monday that the Centre’s note perpetuated sex stereotypes. “Arguments by the Centre founded on physical strength of men and women and grounds of motherhood, family etc violates equality,” the judgement said. “To cast aspersions on ability of women and their role and achievements in Army is an insult not only to women but also to Indian Army.”
Justice Chandrachud then remarked that even if women are less fit for combat roles, these are a tiny fraction of roles in the Armed Forces and women can thus be given permanent commission in other roles. “Two things are required to rid any form of gender discrimination – administrative will and change in mindset,” he added. The court had then reserved its verdict.
The top court on Monday said that the Centre’s claims regarding physiological limitations and social norms to deny an opportunity to women officers are disturbing and cannot be accepted.
On February 4, the government had argued in court that since the Army rank and file is predominantly male and drawn from the rural areas, soldiers are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command.
The Narendra Modi-led government had approved permanent commission for women in all 10 branches of the Army in March last year. Under the scheme, the women officers should indicate within four years of service whether they want permanent commission.
In 2010, the Delhi High Court had ruled that compulsory retirement for women officers after 14 years was unconstitutional in all three services of the military – Army, Air Force and Navy.