SC ruling in favour of permanent commission to women officers.(Detailed analysis)


More in news: The Supreme Court recently ordered the government to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Army’s noncombat support units on par with their male counterparts should they wish to continue with it after completing their short-service commission.

Women in Army:

  • 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 armoured corps.

What was the Case?

  • In 2003, a PIL was filed before the Delhi High Court for grant of permanent commission (PC) to women SSC officers in the Army. 
  • In 2010, Delhi High Court ruled that, women officers of the Air Force and Army on SSC who had sought permanent commission but were not granted that status, would be entitled to PC at par with male SSC officers.
  • The government challenged the order in the Supreme Court, and even though the High Court judgment was not stayed, the Defence Ministry did not implement those directions.
  • The Supreme Court on February 17th, 2020 upheld a 2010 Delhi high court ruling and directed the Centre to ensure that women officers are given permanent commissions in the Indian Army on a par with male officers, including for command posting.
  • The SC has done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, 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.

Views of the Government:

  • The centre’s note stated that, “the profession of arms is not only a profession but a way of life which often requires sacrifices, commitment beyond the call of duty by the entire family of service personnel involving separation, frequent transfers affecting education of children and career prospects of spouse. As a consequence, it is a greater challenge for women officers to meet the hazards of service owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families especially when both husband and wife happen to be service officers”.
  • It also added that it is best to keep woman away from direct combat since capture of a woman officer or soldier as a prisoner of war would lead to a situation of extreme mental, physical and psychological stress for the captured individual and the government.
  • The government came up with a proposal whereby women officers of up to 14 years of service would be granted permanent commission in line with the letter of February 2019. Women officers with more than 14 years of service would be permitted to serve for up to 20 years without being considered for PC, but would retire with pension, and those with more than 20 years of service would be released with pensionary benefits immediately.

Supreme Court’s view:

  • The court said that the submissions made by the Centre were “perpetuates sex stereotypes”.
  • Arguments by the Centre are founded on physical strength of men and women and grounds of motherhood, family etc violates equality.
  • The bench 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”.
  • The apex court has rejected the arguments of central governmnet, saying that they are “based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women”.
  • It has also said that it only shows the need “to emphasise the need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army”.

Implications of the judgement:

  • SC upholds the right to equality in the Constitution for the spirit of the order is the principle of non-discrimination. Gender cannot serve as the basis for inequitable and unequal treatment in any sphere, including in defence forces.
  • 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.
  • The verdict has very explicitly opened the doors for women in command positions, thus ensuring they will have a role in decision-making in due course of time.
  • It also means that in junior ranks and career courses, women officers would be attending the same training courses and tenanting critical appointments, which are necessary for higher promotions.
  • Implementation of the order both in letter and in spirit will help in changing mind sets internally. Especially for male officers who continue to see women as best suited for adjunct roles and not as equals. 
  • The decision will encourage more women to think of a career in the military. This may begin a process of correcting the gender imbalance in India’s forces.

Way Forward:

In order to comply with the order, the human resource management department of army will have to work towards changing policy. There is a bigger need in shift 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. 

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