It's a good day to be a woman officer in the Indian Army. The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday said that women officers in the Indian Army should be allowed in commanding positions and receive permanent commissions. The officers were seen smiling and shaking hands with each other after what is believed to be a huge win for them.
The SC was hearing a plea filed by a few women officers who wanted a command posting after getting permanent commission. The government argued that women may not be 'suitable' for command posts in the Army as male troops are 'not yet prepared' to 'accept' women officers.
Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi told the centre that their argument was "discriminatory", "disturbing," and based on stereotype, adding that the changes must be implemented within three months.
At present, women are only restricted to short-service commissions (10-14 years) in the army, and permanent commissions are available solely to the male officers. This allows the male officers to be in service until they retire. Women officers are also not allowed to serve in command positions—it is an honour reserved only for senior male officers.
At a time when more women than ever are taking up active roles in militaries, serving on the front lines of armed conflicts and as peacekeepers in the world‘s hot spots, it is shameful that the Indian army refuses to promote women to commanding positions.
Slamming the Centre for enforcing gender stereotypes instead of helping to break them, the court said, “Time has come for a realisation that women are not adjuncts to male counterparts whose presence has to be just tolerated … To cast aspersions on women based on gender is, in fact, an affront to the entire army where men and women are equal. To deny grant of permanent commission on these stereotypes represent deeply entrenched biases. True equality in the army must be brought.”
The court stated that the physiological features of women have 'no link to their rights'. "This mindset must change. This change is good for all women in the country... One cannot command immediately. One has to be trained and whoever is fit should be given the option to command."
The bench also said that to cast aspersions on the ability of women and their role and achievements in Army 'is an insult not only to women but also to the Indian Army'.
Meenakshi Lekhi and Aishwarya Bhatti, the advocates who were representing the women officers, had in a previous hearing reminded the court that many of these women had displayed exceptional bravery in adverse situations. They informed the court it was Minty Agarwal who, as flight controller, had guided Wing Commander Abhinandan when he shot down a Pakistani F-16 for which she was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal. Previously, woman officer Mitali Madhumita was awarded the Sena Medal for her bravery when terrorists attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul.
Kudos to the Supreme Court for taking a stand for gender equality in the Indian army. We hope this paves the way for more gender-inclusive policy-making in the military and the government.