In holding the government’s position untenable and unviable, the court said that the government can’t accept women for all services and then deem them unfit for certain roles.
When the Delhi HC, in 2010, ordered the Armed Forces to extend the same benefits to women as it had to men in terms of granting permanent commission, many considered it the end of a long battle for many women, who were first commissioned in 1992. While the Indian Air Force did this, the Army and the Navy have stuck to their guns about not allowing women officers permanent commission. In fact, the government, despite repeated appeals, only issued guidelines last February to make grant of permanent commission for women applicable prospectively. But, now, a Supreme Court bench has rejected the government’s selective application of the law and has directed the forces to grant permanent commission to all willing women officers, on a par with male officers.
In holding the government’s position untenable and unviable, the court said that the government can’t accept women for all services and then deem them unfit for certain roles. While India has come a long way since 1992, gender discrimination is still prevalent in the forces; it has become somewhat structural, as is evident from the language of the government’s reply to the petition filed in the SC. The government contended that as Army was a way of life and demanded sacrifices, it was unfit for women to hold certain roles. In another instance, it contended that as hygiene and health were important for women, it would not be possible to post them in areas that didn’t have the requisite infrastructure. It even argued that since most battalions are predominantly male, there would have to be moderation of behaviour for women officers. While the court did strike down these arguments, highlighting that attitudes needed to change, it will still be difficult for women to find acceptance. Permanent commission will, of course, be granted, but as command positions are based on fulfilment of criteria, it will be interesting to see how many reach those positions. The court has done its job, now it is upon the government and top brass of armed forces to ensure that there is equality.