The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned the Army for denying permanent commission to women short service commission officers as a way of requiring them to have the same fitness standards at the age of 45 as those applied to 25-year-old male officers, Live Law reported. A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud said there cannot be a “perverse inequality” in the Armed Forces.

The court was hearing a plea filed by 60 women officers who have alleged that they were denied permanent commission in the Army on these grounds.

On February 17 in a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court had directed that women officers in the Army be granted a permanent commission, rejecting the Centre’s stand of their physiological limitations as being based on “stereotypes” and “gender discrimination against women”.

Following the judgement, the medical fitness team of the Army tested close to 615 women short service commission officers entitled for permanent commission on five counts: psychiatry, height, appendage or bone structure, physical and eye and ear, according to the Hindustan Times.

During the hearing on Thursday, advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the petitioners, said that some women were eliminated during the test on the basis of their poor annual confidential reports. For permanent commission, this report is assessed between the fifth and 10th year of service.

But the advocate said that when it came to adjudging the women officer’s suitability on merit, their intervening service records after the fifth or the 10th year of induction are disregarded by the Army. Instead, the medical yardstick that they are required to meet is that of an entry-stage short service commission officer.

Arora pointed out that the Armed Forces were interpreting the judgement of the Supreme Court in the most literal sense. “Women biologically cannot be compared to men, and more so after 20 years of service,” she told the court. “There has to be gender-sensitisation in the army.”

Justice Chandrachud, however, told Arora that he had a “slightly nuanced” opinion about this. “There has to be gender equality for women in the armed forces,” he said. “They have to compete equally. You want to be in the Armed Forces, you have to be as fit as a man. You have to be able to move ahead shoulder-to-shoulder with your male counterparts.”

“But there cannot be a perverse equality,” the judge explained. “A 45-50-year-old woman cannot be required to meet the same standards of medical fitness as a 25-30-year-old man.”

Justice Chandrachud said that the theory is that Armed Forces are for the men, and that women are not fit enough for it. “Now their [the Armed Forces] attitude seems to be, as it emerges from their affidavit, that ‘you went to the Supreme Court, you put up the flag of gender equality, here is gender equality in your face, what is your grievance now’,” the judge added. “The attitude seems to be that you wanted to be treated at par with the men, so what are you crying about now?”

The court observed that the Army seemed to be saying that now that the women have got the benefit of the Supreme Court judgement, they cannot ask the forces to not apply the same standards of fitness to them. “This shows a perverse mind, that is all,” said Justice Chandrachud.

Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain said he will reply to these arguments on Tuesday, when the matter will be next heard.