Mains Article

Permanent Commission for Women Officers [Mains Article]

The Supreme Court has paved the way for permanent commission for 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.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
February 24, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Arguments given by the centre
  • Supreme Court’s decision
  • What will be changed?
  • Significance of the judgement
  • A long way to go
  • Conclusion

Permanent Commission for Women Officers

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Introduction:

The latest verdict of Supreme Court to grant permanent commission to women in 10 streams of the Army comes in line with the fact that there is no tool more effective than the empowerment of women for the development of a country.

Background:

  • Women officers have not been granted permanent commission in armed forces till the passage of the recent verdict, despite the longstanding demands of women officers to do so.
  • The case for the issue was first filed in the Delhi High Court by women officers in 2003, and had received a favorable order in 2010.
  • But the order was never implemented, and was challenged in the Supreme Court by the government.
  • 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.
  • However, they were restricted to roles in streams specified earlier — which excluded combat arms such as infantry and armoured corps.

Arguments given by the centre:

  • The government believed thatmale officers are unwilling to ‘accept orders’ from female commanders.
  • It was also argued that women are physiologically weaker with ‘inherent physiological differences’that prevent equal performances.
  • Further, the obligations towards the family, pregnancy and child-rearing would stop women from meeting the ‘hazards of service’ owing to ‘prolonged absences’.

Supreme Court’s Decision:

  • The Supreme Court upheld the 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.
  • Supreme Court dismissed the government’s argument that only women officers with less than 14 years of service ought to be considered for permanent commission.
  • Supreme Court also rejected the government’s stand that women officers with over 20 years of experience should be immediately pensioned.
  • According to the Supreme Court’s decision, women officers would now be eligible for command posts in non-combat areas.
  • The Supreme Court also said that it is discriminatory to keep women away from this opportunity by giving physical, social and mental reasons, it cannot be accepted.
  • The Supreme Court rejected arguments against greater role for women officers, saying these violated equalities under law.

 

What will be changed?

  • Till now, a female officer on Short Service Commission could only work for 14 years. After this, she had to retire from service. This meant that women officers were not eligible for pension, which requires 24 years of service and hence pension was a privilege granted only to men.
    • After the judgement, when a woman is appointed to the army, then that female military officer will be able to work in the army till the age of retirement i.e. 60 years.
    • However, if a woman officer would like to resign for some reason, she can resign.
    • All women officers working in the army under the Short Service Commission will be given an option to choose a permanent commission.
    • Now, women officers will also be entitled to pension after getting a permanent commission.

Significance of the judgement:

1. Recognition:

  • First, the judgement plays a decisive role and acknowledge that the “physiological features of a woman have no significance to her equal entitlements under the Constitution”.

2. Breaking Stereotypes:

  • The judgment emphasis on the need for change in attitudes and mindsets to recognise the commitment to the values of the Constitution and the role women have to play.
  • The notion “inherent physiological differences between men and women” rests on a deeply entrenched stereotypical and constitutionally flawed belief that women are the “weaker” sex and may not undertake tasks that are “too arduous” for them.

3. Equality of opportunity:

  • Third, this change has to be based on “the right of women officers to equality of opportunity”, which has two “facets”: Non-discrimination on the grounds of sex and equality of opportunity for all citizens in employment.
  • State and civil society have to firmly internalize these rights to achieve even the minima of gender justice.
  • This means women now have the same terms of employment as men. No longer will women be forced to retire after 14 years in service, irrespective of their record.
  • They will also have full pension and other financial benefits. The court clarifies that the policy decision will apply to all women SSC officers who are currently in service irrespective of the length of service which has been rendered by them.

4. Doing away with blanket prohibition:

  • Fourth, Article 14 of the Constitution has been pressed into service as prescribing “a right to rationality” that forbids any “blanket” and “absolute” prohibition.
  • The burden to justify the differentiation between women and men falls “squarely on the Army”, which has to “justify such differentiation with reason”.

A long way to go:

  • Women now have permanent commission in the Indian Army but remain a long way from equal representation in the armed forces.
  • According to the latest data presented to Parliament in 2018, India’s army, navy and air force had only 3,653 women compared to 62,507 men.
  • In terms of gender ratios, the air force has the best gender balance, but men still constitute seven times the cadre.
  • In the army, the ratio is worse: there are 27 men per woman.

Conclusion:

The path-breaking judgment is historic in the annals of Indian Army and will forever vindicate gender equality and justice. This sets the morale of the women in armed forces high and restores the faith in judiciary with the assertion that there is no place for gender based stereotypes in the 21st century India.

[Ref: Indian Express, Jagran Josh, Live Mint]

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