The Supreme Court recently struck down the Army’s discriminatory selection criteria for grant of permanent commission to Women Short Service Commissioned Officers . This is with respect to selective evaluation of annual confidential reports and application of present medical standards retrospectively to selection, which is normally done at five or 10 years of service.
This judgment was the result of the selection criteria evolved by the Army, based on another benchmark Supreme Court judgment of 17 February 2020, in Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya case. The court had then ruled that the claim of women engaged on Short Service Commissions in the Army for seeking permanent commission was evaluated and held to be justified.
Centre’s averments were based on the technical and practical grounds. The Centre argued on the points of maternity leaves and PoW. It clearly averred that the Defence is not ready to induce women in combat forces.
“The composition of rank and file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command,” the Centre said in an affidavit that essentially justifies sexism in official policy.
Maintaining that male and female officers could not be treated equally when it came to postings because of their different physical standards, the Centre also cited greater family demands, the perils of women being taken as prisoners of war and reservations about over-exposing women officers to combat situations to oppose the plea.
In 2008, permanent commission was extended to women in streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps.
Last year, in a landmark move, the Narendra Modi government decided to grant permanent commission to women in all ten branches where they are inducted for Short Service Commission — Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence.
Now, about command positions. The Modi government told the Supreme Court last week that women may not be able to meet the challenges and hazards of military service due to their “psychological limitations and domestic obligations”.
Women in combat roles
Next, we come to the idea of women in combat roles — Infantry and the Armoured Corps. No matter how much you romanticise about this, it is practically impossible, especially in India if not accepted by the society.
It requires a societal change . Even countries such as the US have only recently started inducting women in infantry combat roles.
Even in sports, women have set records while competing against women and not men because of different physical attributes and stamina.
Gender parity also implies no concessions and leniencies with respect to terms and conditions of service. The military, of course, will have to accept physiological and gender-specific rights like maternity and child care leave. There is a rare scope for the armed forces to create gender-specific units/organisations. Women will have to cope with service in mixed units with attendant problem of instinctual male conduct
I am a committed supporter of women serving in the armed forces in all disciplines without any restrictions as long as they do so on merit. The military needs to shed its patriarchal attitude and frame a policy for gradual induction of women in all ranks and disciplines. Necessary infrastructure must be created for women soldiers. In order to create the parity, there has to be stringent changes made in the policies of the army. There are numerous instances of bravery of women. The number of seats for the entrance exams should also be increased. The armed forces must lay down physical fitness standards that are necessary for women in service. These must be equal to the satisfactory/average standards set for the male soldiers. For fighting arms and Special Forces, the standards should be at par with the male soldiers.