New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday said if the government changes its mindset then “women officers could be given command posts in the Army” and that it’s high time the dispensation implements it.
The top court said this while hearing a petition, demanding permanent commission for women in the Army.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the central government, had Tuesday said that “male soldiers in the Indian Army were not yet ready to accept women commanders”.
But he clarified Wednesday that he in no way meant “gender discrimination” and said women do not have to try and be equal to men as they were “far ahead of them”.
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who led the two-member bench, agreed with Mehta and said that it’s time the central government implement induction of women in the Army and give them command posts.
“I was surprised and disagreed with the news (of what Mehta said Tuesday) today. The arguments were much more nuanced and contextual. We would like to see the government implement that,” said Justice Chandrachud.
‘Motherhood, childcare have bearing on employment of women’
The central government told the top court that “motherhood, childcare, psychological limitations” have a bearing on employment of women officers in the Army.
“Lower physical standards of women, composition of units that are entirely male mostly from rural background impact commander appointments,” Mehta submitted.
Justice Chandrachud pointed out that combat roles and battlefield combats were the only fraction of role in the military where women are not inducted even if it is assumed that “women are less fit for combat roles”.
However, Mehta argued that “combat situation, different physical standards was a reality”.
The government further said it is also keeping in mind the “greater family demands and danger of them being taken as prisoners of war”.
The top court bench, however, stated that if the government wants and changes its mindset then “women officers could be given command posts in the Army as there are many other services in addition to combat operations where women could be accommodated”.
‘Administrative will and change in mindset’
The petitioners, represented by Meenakshi Lekhi and Aishwarya Bhatti in the case, argued that there was discrimination from the beginning and that Short Service Commission (SSC) was introduced in 2006 and option was given to women if they wanted to be governed by old policy.
“There’s a difference in training in SSC (11 months) and when someone passes out from Indian Military Academy (18 months) because they have permanent entry. There’s an adjustment in seniority when you go from SSC to permanent commission so they don’t surpass the ones who’ve come from Indian Military committee,” the petitioners said.
Women have to undergo SSC training to get inducted into the Army.
Justice Chandrachud at this juncture remarked that the petitioners were in fact suggesting that women were not eligible for permanent commission at all.
Senior advocate R. Balasubramaniam, arguing for the Defence Ministry, stated that no rule in the appointments perpetuates gender-based discrimination for promotion, appointments, etc. and that all provisions and rules apply equally to both men and women.
Justice Chandrachud said that “two things were required to rid any form of gender discrimination — administrative will and change in mindset”.
The advocates appearing for the petitioners said there was enough empirical data to suggest that women officers are not at par with the male officers in the Army.
The top court reserved its order on the issue of permanent commission for women in the Army. It stated that similar petitions pertaining to the Air Force and the Navy will be taken up next week.