Topics Covered: Issues related to women.
Permanent Commission for Women
What to study?
For Prelims: What was the issue? What is Permanent Commission?
For Mains: Significance and implications of this judgment.
Context: The Supreme Court has brought women officers in 10 streams of the Army on a par with their male counterparts in all respects, setting aside longstanding objections of the government. The court ordered the government to implement its judgment in three months.
- The Supreme Court rejected arguments against greater role for women officers, saying these violated equality under law.
- The biological argument was also rejected as disturbing.
- The court has rejected government’s arguments, saying 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”.
The case was first filed in the Delhi High Court by women officers in 2003, and had received a favourable order in 2010. But the order was never implemented, and was challenged in the Supreme Court by the government.
Women in Army: Background of the case:
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 main issue now?
While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers. They were, thus, kept out of any command appointment, and could not qualify for government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer.
Why the government was against this?
- Motherhood, childcare, psychological limitations have a bearing on the employment of women officers in the Army.
- Family separation, career prospects of spouses, education of children, prolonged absence due to pregnancy, motherhood were a greater challenge for women to meet the exigencies of service.
- Physical limitations: Soldiers will be asked to work in difficult terrains, isolated posts and adverse climate conditions. Officers have to lead from the front. They should be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks. The Govt. said women were not fit to serve in ground combat roles.
- Behavioural and Psychological Challenges: Army units were a “unique all-male environment”. The presence of women officers would require “moderated behaviour”. The male troop predominantly comes from a rural background and may not be in a position to accept commands from a female leader.
But, why they should be granted permanent commission?
- Past records: A quick look at the past records reveals, all the arguments put forth against giving women more responsibility have been answered by the armed forces by giving women greater responsibility in uniform — the IAF has allowed women to become fighter pilots, and the Army has sent them to tough UN peacekeeping missions globally.
- Women officers are already commanding platoons, companies and second in command successfully, with male soldiers accepting orders from them as part of a professional force.
- Now they are being excluded from commanding a unit, only on the basis that they are women. This argument doesn’t hold water.
- A professional force does not discriminate on the basis of gender, it works because of training, norms and culture. Denying women the posts will be an “extremely retrograde step” and “will inflict irreparable injury” to their dignity.
Order and its implications:
- It means that women officers will be eligible to tenant all the command appointments, at par with male officers, which would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them.
- 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.
- The implications of the judgment will have to be borne by the human resources management department of the Army, which will need to change policy in order to comply.
The bigger shift will have 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. After the Supreme Court’s progressive decision, they have no choice but to bite the proverbial bullet.
Sources: the Hindu.