Women in Armed Forces
Topic: General Studies 2:
- Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions (Judicial Overreach Vs Judicial activism)
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
The Supreme Court has asked government to adhere to its own stated policy on granting permanent commission to women in the Short Service Commission (SSC)
At present, the women officers are allowed permanent commission (PC) only in two branches of the Indian Army, namely the Judge Advocate General and Army Education Corps.
The remaining eight branches that will open up for women SSC officers in the army are Corps of Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and the Intelligence Corps
What is Short Service Commission?
- It is an option of joining the Army and serving as a Commissioned Officer for 10 years
- At the end of 10 years a person has two options – Either to get elected for a Permanent Commission or opt out.
- Those not selected for Permanent Commission have the option of a 4 years extension. They can resign at any time during this period.
- A Permanent Commission means a career in the Army till you retire
Women in Army: Background of the case
1992: Induction of Women officers into Army started. Women were commissioned for a period of five years in certain chosen streams through Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES)
WSES had a shorter pre-commission training period than their male counterparts who were commissioned under the Short Service Commission (SSC) scheme.
2003: PIL was filed before the Delhi High Court for grant of permanent commission (PC) to women SSC officers in the Army
2006: WSES scheme was replaced with the SSC scheme, which was extended to women officers.
- Women were commissioned for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years
- Women were however, restricted to roles in streams specified earlier — which excluded combat arms such as infantry and armoured corps.
- 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
Impact of such a system:
- Women were kept out of any command appointment (they could only reach up to the level of Colonel)
- Women could not qualify for government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer.
2008: Defence Ministry passed an order saying PC would be granted prospectively to SSC women officers in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) department and the Army Education Corps (AEC) (2 out of 10 streams in PC)
2010: Delhi High Court Order: Women officers of the Air Force and Army on SSC who had sought permanent commission but were not granted that status, would be entitled to PC at par with male SSC officers.
This order was subsequently challenged by government in the Supreme Court and also did not implement the High Court order even though it was not stayed by the apex court.
August 15, 2018: Prime Minister Modi announced that permanent commission would be granted to serving women officers of the armed forces. However, it was not implemented on the ground which led the SC to pass the present judgement
Basis of arguments put forth by the government in the Apex Court while arguing against Women’s inclusion in Permanent Commission are:
- Women were kept out of command posts on the reasoning that the largely rural rank and file will have problems with women as commanding officers.
- Limitations of judicial review on policy issues
- Occupational hazards
- SSC is merely a support cadre
- Biological arguments: Rationalization on physiological limitations for employment in staff appointments.
- Deployment of women officers was not advisable in conflict zones where there was “minimal facility for habitat and hygiene. (Despite the fact that 30% of the total number of women officers are deputed to conflict areas)
Implications of Supreme Court ruling:
- The court rejected all the above arguments of the government as discriminatory and against Article 14 of the Constitution
- Women on a par with male officers: SC has done away with all discrimination for grant of PC in 10 non-combat wings in the army, bringing women on par with men.
- Opening of command positions would necessarily kick-start a flurry on activities within the military. Military secretary’s branch will have to begin with reorganising cadre management to accommodate women 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.
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.
Connecting the dots!
- Representation of Women in Parliament/Legislature – Should SC also pass an order mandating 33% of legislature seats to be reserved for Women.
- Possible consequences of the ruling on Societal prejudices on women