New Delhi: Women Army officers Monday welcomed the Supreme Court judgment granting them permanent commission after a nearly 14-year-long legal battle, saying it is a victory in their fight for parity with the men.
Until now, women officers could only be commissioned for short service. But now, the Supreme Court has directed the central government to grant permanent commission to all women officers who opt for it, and also ordered that the officers shall be eligible for command posting in the Army.
The ruling will have a retrospective effect. The court has granted three months’ time to implement its order.
“It is a landmark and historic judgment for the upliftment of women, not only for those already serving in the armed forces. It has paved the way for many other aspiring young women who can make a career in the armed forces,” said Lt Col. Seema Singh, who was one of the litigants in the case.
Last week, officers had told ThePrint that their battle was for parity, not for pension.
A woman officer said the struggle was not against the organisation (Army) or male officers, but against policies, which were discriminatory in nature.
“The organisation, perhaps, was overprotective about women… The intention may have been good, but the path they had chosen was infringing on the basic fundamental rights of women,” the officer said.
A second woman officer told ThePrint that women in the armed forces should now ensure that there is no misuse of permanent commission on gender grounds. She added that her message to women in the armed forces would be that they should ensure that they are treated as soldiers, and not play the “woman card” or gain favour in any manner because of their gender.
Objections and challenges
The Army had traditionally opposed permanent commission or a long-term career for women, citing poor infrastructure and possible disciplinary complications. However, last year, the Army took the decision to start permanent commission for women in all its branches, beginning April this year.
But there were other instances that had caused controversy. For example, then-Army chief General Bipin Rawat had said last year that a woman officer would feel uncomfortable at the frontline and accuse jawans of peeping when she would change clothes.
After Monday’s Supreme Court judgment, Army sources said there are challenges galore in implementing permanent commission for women.
A senior Army officer said that all ordnance, EME (electronics and mechanical engineers) and ASC (Army Service Corps) officers are supposed to do a two or three-year cross-infantry attachment.
“It needs to be seen how that will take place, since women do not serve in combat arms. Are women officers going to be given leeway?” an officer asked.
The officer said that there are Signals and EME officers who serve at Siachen for a limited duration.
“Will women officers go? Do we have the infrastructure for that or will the troops have to readjust? These are practical problems which need to be addressed,” the officer said.
However, the first anonymous woman officer quoted above said that it is for the Army to decide on a new policy to address these issues, while granting women an equal opportunity with their male counterparts.
Another officer said it needs to be seen why so many armed forces personnel have to go through the Supreme Court to get their due.
“This should have long been sorted out within the Army. It needs to be seen why so many in the military have to litigate in the Supreme Court,” the officer said.