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10 things you need to know about the Supreme Court judgment on women officers in Army

A short summary of Episode 394 of #CutTheClutter by Shekhar Gupta.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday upheld a 2010 Delhi High Court verdict, stating that the Narendra Modi government has to give permanent commission (PC) to women officers in the Army irrespective of their years in service.

Before this, women in the Army were allowed permanent commission in only a few services. For the other services, they were forced to leave the SSC after finishing a maximum tenure of 14 years. 

The judgment now allows permanent commission to all women officers who opt for it in all the 10 services.

Here are the five things the judgment allows and five it doesn’t. 

What it allows

  1. All women serving as SSC are now entitled to opt for PC — they are qualified for permanent commission as much as all male SSC officers are entitled to opt for the PC.
  2. Applies to women in all services of the Army — no exceptions.
  3. Officers, who have been serving and completed more than 14 years of service, can now serve until 20 years and retire with full pension benefits.
  4. Those who served 20 or more years, whether or not they got a PC, will be entitled to pension benefits.
  5. Command is now open to women officers — this doesn’t necessarily mean commanding to fight battalions, but that women can rise to the colonel level. A command can also be of a non-fighting unit. 

What it doesn’t allow

  1. Does not open combat arms to women — the judgment leaves it to the government of the day, without nudging in any direction.
  2. Does not make permanent commission mandatory — a woman officer can opt for it, but does not get it mandatorily, or by right.
  3. No such thing as a right to take command of something — command positions are decided on the basis of vacancies, qualifications. It usually takes 20 years for an officer to get to this level.
  4. Command positions, if given, shall be confined to non-combat arms.
  5. Does not amount to an affirmative action/reservation of jobs in PC or command position — it promises equality of treatment, but the discretion of granting command and permanent commission posts lies with the Army and government, but the decision must be explained. 

What the judgment says

The Supreme Court said: “Even at its bare minimum, the right to equality is a right to rationality. Where the State, and in this case the Army as an instrumentality of the State, differentiates between women and men, the burden falls squarely on the Army to justify such differentiation with reason.”

It doesn’t, however, engage with the topic of women being inducted into combat arms, since the SC’s judgment arises out of an earlier Delhi High Court verdict.

“Courts are indeed conscious of the limitations, which issues of national security and policy impose on the judicial evolution of doctrine in matters relating to the armed forces. For this reason, we have noticed that the engagement of women in the Combat Arms has been specifically held to be a matter of policy by the judgment of the Delhi High Court and which is not in question in the present appeals.”

The SC also spoke strongly of a “need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army”.

“To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army — men and women — who serve as equal citizens in a common mission,” it said.

You can watch the full episode here

Also read: ‘Women aren’t adjuncts’ — what SC said while granting permanent commission to women in Army


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