Indian Navy
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s verdict Tuesday granting permanent commission to women officers in the Indian Navy is likely to hasten efforts within the force to allow women to serve at sea, top Naval sources told ThePrint. 

Women deployed in the Navy are not sent to sea because it has so far been seen as a man’s domain. While women are allowed to serve in many other branches — including three where they have permanent commission, and also as observers in the Navy’s IL-38, P-8i and Dornier aircraft – restrictions on sea service puts them at a disadvantage against male colleagues when it comes to promotions. 

“This is particularly true for women naval officers who have been inducted as observers in recent times. While their male counterparts would go to sea, women officers are not allowed sea service at present,” a senior officer from the Navy said.

This is so because women observers in the Navy are currently short-service commission officers who have to mandatorily retire after 14 years while their male colleagues continue to rise through the ranks. “This is likely to change with the grant of permanent commission to women officers,” the officer added.  

“Sea service is a determining factor in promotions to the rank above commander, and this (SC decision) may prompt the Navy to come up with a decision soon on allowing sea service to women officers,” a second officer said.

In the Navy, promotions up to the rank of commander are time-scale based. 

Short-service commission officers retire at the rank of commander. Beginning with the first rank that follows, Captain, sea service is an important criterion for promotions. Because of this, even though permanent commission has been extended to women in three branches, they are unable to rise beyond the rank of commander.

Also Read: Indian Navy to study ways to induct women sailors aboard ships

‘A victory’

There are over 639 women personnel in the Navy, including 148 medical officers and two dental officers.

Women Navy officers serve functions such as logistics, ATC, observers (aviation), naval architecture and in the education branch.  In 2016, the Navy finally fell in line with a 2008 government order and granted permanent commission to women in three fields — education, law and naval architecture branches.

This is likely to change in three months. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stated there cannot be gender discrimination and directed the central government to grant permanent commission to serving women officers in the Navy within three months. 

The decision comes close on the heels of the apex court judgment allowing permanent commission for women Army officers after a 14-year-long fight.

Advocate Pooja Dhar, who has been fighting the case on behalf of women officers of the Navy since 2015, said it was a huge victory. 

“It was a long fight… A 1999 policy that also got presidential assent, asking women officers to be granted permanent commission… was not implemented,” she told ThePrint.

“The five original petitioners from the initial batches of the Navy have been given pensionary benefits and also a compensation of Rs 25 lakh each. While they were not reinstated in service, since they retired from service before 2008, the Supreme Court’s verdict will help… women serving in the Navy secure a permanent commission,” she said. 

Commander Ruby Singh (Retd), who is from the first batch of women naval officers commissioned in 1992, said it was wonderful to be heard by the Supreme Court.

“This came to us after a delay of 21 years, since we never knew about the 1999 order. It came to light much later via the Armed Forces Tribunal (principal bench) order. It will surely open up doors for greater career progression of women in the Navy by removing all the artificial barriers women were subjected to,” she said.

Also Read: Women in combat roles: India can romanticise it but here’s why we are not ready yet


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