Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Monday said that the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre had insulted women Army officers by arguing in the Supreme Court that they were not fit for certain posts. Earlier in the day, the top court directed the central government to provide permanent commission to women officers in the Indian Army, respecting the 2010 order of the Delhi High Court in the matter.
The Supreme Court also noted that women Army officials can get “command and criteria” appointments similar to their male counterparts. The Centre’s arguments perpetuated sex stereotypes, the court said, adding: “Arguments by the Centre founded on physical strength of men and women and grounds of motherhood, family etc violates equality. 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.”
The Centre had 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 had proposed that short-service commissioned women officers with up to 14 years of service would be considered for permanent commission.
In a written submission, the Centre had 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.”
Reacting to the judgement, Gandhi highlighted the Centre’s arguments in the top court. “The government disrespected every Indian woman by arguing in the SC that women Army officers didn’t deserve command posts or permanent service because they were inferior to men,” he tweeted. “I congratulate India’s women for standing up and proving the BJP government wrong.”
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 Narendra Modi-led central 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.