SC bats for equality

Fourteen years after eleven women officers decided to fight the gender bias prevalent in the Indian Army, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment, struck down ‘stereotypes’ and gave the Centre three months to make women eligible for full tenures and command posting. A two-member bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi termed the government’s argument of physiological limitations and social norms for denying women officers command posts as ‘disturbing and discriminatory’.

For the 11 women officers, all aged between 47 and 48 years, who were selected in the Army as Short Service Commission officers from 1995- 96, though the judgement came ten years too late, they hoped other women personnel will benefit from their fight. With a retirement age of 54 years, the petitioners have roughly six to seven years of service pending, but career wise stand way behind their male counterparts who have risen substantially in rank and position.

Women were inducted in the Army from February15,1992, in stipulated branches and cadres with a tenure of five years, this was extended to ten years later in 1996. On November 19, 2005, the Defence Ministry further extended it up to fourteen years. In February 2003, however, Babita Puniya, an advocate approached the Delhi High Court for the grant of Permanent Commission to women SSC officers in the Army. Three years later, the 11 women officers, who had by then completed ten years of service, joined the petition seeking permanent commission.

In a strongly worded order, the apex court on Monday said, “Seventy years after the birth of a post-colonial independent state, there is still a need for change in attitudes and mindsets to recognize the commitment to the values of the Constitution…. The submissions advanced…are based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women. Underlying the statement that it is a ‘greater challenge’ for women officers to meet the hazards of service ‘owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families’ is a strong stereotype which assumes that domestic obligations rest solely on women.”

The court observed that the Centre’s submission of ‘minimal facilities for habitat and hygiene’ as a ground for suggesting that women officers in the services must not be deployed in conflict zones did not stand as the petitioners have placed on record that 30 per cent of the total women officers are in fact deputed to conflict areas.

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