MAJOR GENERAL (RETD) S.B. ASTHANA
The recent decisions of the Honorable Supreme Court on February 17 and March 17 regarding grant of permanent commission to Women Officers (WOs) are welcome judgments, seen as a landmark step towards women’s empowerment and corrective change to prevent perceived gender bias against women, with the Supreme Court playing the role of the change agent. The concerns expressed by the government, on behalf of Indian Armed Forces, like physiology, motherhood and physical attributes did not hold ground under the basic tenet of constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and a level playing field.
The ruling given with respect to the cases taken up with the Supreme Court, is to be implemented in three months.
A glance at the open source coverage of Supreme Court decisions seemed to suggest that the Indian military had a patriarchal mindset and the Supreme Court has bettered the system with this landmark judgment.
Post-independence, the induction of WOs into the Indian Army through the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) started in 1992, after the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, as per the needs of the organization. In February 2019 the Government granted permanent commission to women officers in eight streams of the Army, in addition to the JAG and AEC, to whom it was granted earlier in 2008. All these decisions were also pathbreaking, need driven, societal changes taken voluntarily by Indian military and not by intervention of courts. Hence, it may not be right to perceive that the Indian military had a patriarchal mindset and resisted such changes.
This gender bias against men officers also needs to be set right by gender equality. The need for ï¿½gender equality’ is the societal need of the hour and applies to both female as well as male officers and should be ensured in the spirit of the judgment.
Translating the same in the spirit of achieving gender equality, and the Supreme Court judgment, the same standards have to be applied across the board, without any gender bias, throughout their career. It therefore implies that the same standards irrespective of gender, be applied for recruitment of officers, training, career courses and criteria for command appointments. It entails same hardships be suffered by all officers and the same selection process be gone through for successive promotions, irrespective of the gender which will make the competition tougher for WOs.
The fact that the Supreme Court delivered its decision in March 2020 to induct WOs in all types of warships in Indian Navy, as a natural process of societal evolution, the possible induction of WOs into combat arms is going to be the next challenge, which the Indian military will be confronted with, in due course.
If every other combat arm officer has to go through commando or counterinsurgency or mountain warfare course and serve in Rashtriya Rifles or Assam Rifles for at least one tenure, the same yardstick must apply to WOs. In Israeli defence forces which follow gender equality, only four per cent of WOs are in combat roles and they too are mostly employed for combat support tasks within the combat arm. Most armies avoid women getting involved in close combat with the enemy, with due concern for their safety. It may be interesting to note that support services attract much more volunteers than combat arms, in view of greater stability of family, even amongst male officers. Hence, the trend is unlikely to be different in case of WOs.
The Indian army cannot afford not to send WOs or women on forward posts or CI areas after inducting them in combat arms. Such an implementation will be disastrous, lead to gender inequality and create a gender bias against male officers, stressing them with longer hard field sufferings and invite grievances from them.
The Indian army has started recruiting WOs and soldiers in the Corps of Military Police, who can be employed in counter insurgency and terror operations on roles similar to women police, in dealing with the population.
Interpreting the orders of the Supreme Court, so long the level playing field is ensured in all aspects of gender equality throughout the service span from recruitment to retirement, the WOs volunteering for combat arms with determination to overcome all concerns, and found suitable at par with male counterparts, should be given the opportunity to take such a choice.