Women Army Officers Can Get Command Roles. Top Court Slams "Stereotypes"

Women Army Officers Can Get Command Roles. Top Court Slams

The Supreme Court will also rule on permanent commission for women

New Delhi:

In a watershed moment for the Indian military, the Supreme Court today said women officers in the Army can get commanding positions - not combat roles -- on par with male officers, asserting that the government's arguments against it were "discriminatory", "disturbing," and based on stereotype. The changes must be implemented within three months, ordered the court.

Simply described, a woman colonel can command a battalion now, which is the first level of independent command in the Army.

The Supreme Court also said women who have served less than 14 years in the Short Service Commission (SSC) in the Army can have the option of permanent commission. "We see no reason to grant permanent commission only to those who had have more than 14 years in service," the court said, commenting that there is a "fundamental fallacy" in the policy.

The court said the Army could not discriminate between men and women, striking down blatant gender bias propagated for years. It said absolute bar on granting command post to women officers in the Army is irrational and against right to equality.

"To cast aspersions on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country. Time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts," said the court.

It also rejected the centre's arguments of physiological limitations, social norms for denying permanent commission to women officers, calling it disturbing. "Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change," said Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi in their landmark ruling.

The government had told the Supreme Court that "troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units" since they are "predominantly drawn from a rural background".

"Women work shoulder to shoulder with men. The centre's submission is based on gender discrimination and stereotype. Women Army officers brought laurels to the county," the Supreme Court said, referring to women officers who it said had done the country proud.

The court noted that the petitioners had countered the government by arguing on the physical capabilities of women, the composition of the rank and file and psychological realities. These "need to be rejected with the contempt that they deserve," the judges said.

At present, woman officers can serve for 10-14 years in the Short Service Commission. Women officers are allowed entry into Army Service Corps, Ordnance, Education Corps, Judge Advocate General, Engineers, Signals, Intelligence and Electrical and Mechanical Engineering branches.

There is no option to allow women in combat roles like infantry, armoured, mechanised infantry, aviation and artillery.

The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy also grant permanent commission to women officers even as both have opened up some combat roles for women.

The air force allows women as officers in flying and ground duties. Women IAF Short Service Commission (SSC) officers fly helicopter, transport aircraft and now even fighter jets.

In the navy, women officers inducted through SSC are allowed in logistics, law, observers, air traffic control, maritime reconnaissance pilots and Naval Armament Inspectorate Cadre.