Victory in a long battle for opportunities – Women in Army
The Supreme Court of India in February 2020 delivered a much-anticipated ruling that allows women to serve as permanently commissioned (PC) officers in 10 combat support arms (These are Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and Intelligence in addition to the existing two streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps) and services of the Indian Army. The Supreme Court also directed the central Government to rescind the embargo on command appointments for women officers. This July, the government issued formal sanction offering PC to women officers of the Indian Army.
The judgment is iconic not only because it allowed women officers equal opportunities to serve in the Indian Army but also because the judgment addressed the issue of regressive mindsets.
What was the issue?
- The Indian armed forces began inducting women in the non-medical branches in the year 1992, as short service commission (SSC) officers.
- The scheme initially allowed for a five-year service period, which was revised to 14 years. In the armed forces, both men and women opt for the Short Service Commission.
- However, upon completion of 14 years of service, male officers could get a permanent commission. Women officers who had put in the same number of years of service, were denied this privilege.
Journey to change –
- In a quest for equality, many officers of Indian Army and Indian Air Force filed cases in the Delhi High Court seeking to remove discrimination between genders.
- The Indian Air Force was first among the three services to grant PC to SSC women officers. The Indian Army chose to appeal in the Supreme Court, citing reasons of peculiar service conditions and operational requirements.
- A notification by the Government of India in 2019, suggested PC to women officers with less than 14 years of service, practically leaving a sizeable set of senior women officers out of the gambit. Now with this judgment, women who don ‘The Olives’, have finally obtained parity with their male counterparts.
- The Supreme Court also issued a directive to ensure that women are not restricted to staff duties. Approximately 30% of women officers in the Indian Army are deployed in combat zones performing similar duties like other officers. The policy issued by the government of India in 2019, was discriminatory to exclude them from command positions.
Implications of the judgement –
- With the grant of PC, women officers will now be entitled to serving till the age of retirement and not forced to look for alternative careers after 14 years. This will provide clarity on their career paths and place women officers on an equal footing with men for promotions, professional growth, and provide job security.
- Despite forming a relatively minuscule 3.29% of the total strength of the Indian Army, women in all branches of the army have served shoulder to shoulder with male officers in operational field areas (The Indian Air Force has almost 13% women in the officer cadre). Selection for command appointments in the Indian Army eluded women officers earlier. Now, women officers can be considered for command roles, career postings and many other opportunities to distinguish themselves professionally.
- A grant of PC will accrue many other employee benefits, as, ‘In service career courses’ (such as the National Defence College, College of Defence Management, the Army War College, etc), the Defence Services Staff College, options in higher studies (such as a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Technology), pension, ex-servicemen status and consequent benefits to name a few.
- In addition, allowing a motivated set of experienced women officers in permanent cadre would be a small way to mitigate the shortage of officers (estimated at 18% of the authorised strength in the Indian Army.
What is the way forward?
- Given the evolving nature of warfare supported by technology, women in combat arms can be a logical step. However, this question merits separate discussions, determined by the maturity and mindset of the system. Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States have been conservative about women in their respective combat arms, while others like the Israeli Defense Forces have achieved widespread integration of women.
- Will women get the opportunity to directly join the services as permanently commissioned officers? It must be noted that for women, the SSC is the only inroad into the armed forces (except the Medical Corps). There is no provision for women to choose defence as a long-term career right at the outset as a PC officer. When parity of allowing entry of women as permanent cadre is attained, it would truly be a level-playing field in terms of equal opportunity and career advancement.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – Allowing women to serve as permanently commissioned (PC) officers in the armed forces was not only a question of providing equal opportunities but redressal of the issue of regressive mindsets. Comment.