Women Army officers broke into celebrations at the Supreme Court today after it ruled in their favour on allowing them in “command and criteria” appointments on par with male officers. The government’s arguments were “discriminatory”, “disturbing,” and based on stereotype, Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi said in the landmark ruling. The court said changes must be implemented within three months.
Lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi, who represented the women officers in the Delhi High Court, was seen in a photo shaking hands and congratulating them. The officers, all of them smiling in their crisp uniforms, gesture to one another to strike a pose for the camera.
The Supreme Court also said all women must be considered for permanent commission. “We see no reason not to grant permanent commission to those who had have more than 14 years in service,” the court said, commenting that there is a “fundamental fallacy” in the policy of considering permanent commission only for those who have served less than 14 years.
“The court has also given its observations on how the Army authorities tried to mislead them. The court has given women officers all the rights that male officers have… sky is virtually the limit,” Ms Lekhi told reporters outside the Supreme Court.
The government had told the Supreme Court that “troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units” since they are “predominantly drawn from a rural background”.
“To cast aspersions on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country. Time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts,” said the Supreme Court. “Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change.”
“This change is good for all women in the country… One cannot command immediately. One has to be trained and whoever is fit should be given the option to command,” a woman Army officer told reporters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech in August 2018 had said announced women officers in India’s armed forces would soon have the option to take up permanent commission through the Short Service Commission.
However, PM Modi at that time had not elaborated if the government had decided to open all the branches of the defence forces to permanently commission women officers.