From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not Much
Mains level : Debate over suitablity of women in combat roles of Indian Army
- The Supreme Court 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 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 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.
2 key arguments shot down
- The Supreme Court rejected arguments against a greater role for women officers, saying this violated equality under the law.
- They were being kept out of command posts on the reasoning that the largely rural rank and a file will have problems with women as commanding officers. The biological argument was also rejected as disturbing.
- 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.
- The first batch of women officers under the new scheme entered the Army in 2008.
Arguments by the govt.
- The government put forth other arguments before the Supreme Court to justify the proposal on the grounds of permanent commission, grants of pensionary benefits, limitations of judicial review on policy issues, occupational hazards, reasons for discrimination against women and rationalization on physiological limitations for employment in staff appointments.
- The apex court has rejected these 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”.
Implications of the judgement
- The SC has done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers.
- It has also removed the restriction of women officers only being allowed to serve in staff appointments, which is the most significant and far-reaching aspect of the judgment.
- 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.
- But 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.